Office of Space Commerce Examines Options for SSA Commercial Pilot Project in LEO

WASHINGTON — With a successful commercial space traffic coordination pilot project completed, the Office of Space Commerce is considering ways to do a similar project in the more challenging environment of low Earth orbit.

Speaking at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference on Feb. 8, Richard DalBello, director of NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce, said the office had just completed a two-month project to test the ability to perform situational awareness. averaging space and geostationary earth orbits using only commercial data.

The office, working with the Department of Defense, awarded contracts in December to COMSPOC Corp., ExoAnalytic Solutions, Kayhan Space, KBR, NorthStar Earth & Space Inc., Slingshot Aerospace and Space Data Association for the pilot. He also used data from five contracts the office awarded in September for commercial space situational awareness (SSA) data.

DalBello stated that while the office was still reviewing the driver’s results, it appeared to be going well. “I’m very confident that we will have done very well,” he said. “Initial results look very good.”

The goal, he noted, is to do at least as well as what is offered by 18th Space Defense Squadron, which currently provides space traffic coordination services. “We wanted to do SSA in GEO without government data and just answer the question, could we do that?” he said. “I think the answer will be yes.”

The office is now looking at options to do a similar pilot program in LEO. This will be more challenging, he argued, given the limited data available in LEO and the more congested environment there.

“The difference between GEO and LEO is the difference between living in the country and living in downtown DC,” he said. GEO is less crowded, with a smaller number of larger satellites, while LEO features many more objects in multiple orbits. “It’s just a dramatic difference.”

Another difference is the available data. “We don’t have the depth of coverage we need” at LEO, he said, with fewer commercial providers. “We would like a better resolution than what we currently have in LEO.”

These factors will weigh in on any Office of Space Commerce plans to do a similar space traffic coordination commercial pilot in LEO. “I’m sure we’ll do something. Whether it will be a pilot like we did in GEO, I’m not 100% sure, but we will be doing a focused investigation with LEO players.”

DalBello also called for greater international coordination, citing as an example a formal relationship with the European Union Space Surveillance and Tracking (EUSST) partnership, which is building an independent SSA capability in Europe. “It is absolutely essential that there is an open dialogue about this type of information.”

These discussions are increasingly important as more resources come in, with the Department of Defense no longer the sole source of information for the SSA. “We have a big task ahead of us to make sure we have a way to understand what other people are saying,” he said. “We are literally creating a Tower of Babel today, so the US is trying to do the best it can to move forward on that.”

He singled out China as a country that, for now, is not cooperating with the United States and others on SSA. “Today we have an environment where the Chinese are not playing,” he said. “They are a big space operator, but they are not sharing data in a meaningful way about where they are or what their satellites are doing.”

“It wouldn’t work in air traffic control and it won’t work in space traffic control,” he added. “We need all responsible operators at the table.”

ORBITS law reintroduced

As the Office of Space Commerce works on coordinating space traffic, several senators have reintroduced a bill that would address related issues, including active debris removal.

Senator John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) announced on Feb. 16 that he had introduced the Orbital Sustainability Act, or ORBITS. Joining him as co-sponsors were Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-California)

The new ORBITS Act is similar to an earlier version that Hickenlooper and others introduced last September and which passed the Senate in December by unanimous consent. However, the House did not address it before the adjournment of Congress, requiring senators to reintroduce the bill into the new Congress.

The bill instructs NASA to publish a list of those orbital debris objects “that pose the greatest immediate risk to the safety and sustainability of orbiting satellites and in-orbit activities” and authorizes NASA to establish a debris removal demonstration program. . The bill would allow government agencies to contract commercial debris removal services, update existing standard debris mitigation practices, and develop new practices for coordinating space traffic.

“It’s time for a major spring cleaning to protect our space operations from the dangerous threat of debris,” Hickenlooper said in the statement. He introduced the bill last year, when he served as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, and reintroduced it, although he is not leading the subcommittee in the new Congress.

“Just last month, two Russian satellites came within 20 feet of colliding, which would have blanketed space with even more debris,” said Cantwell, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, referring to a Jan. by LeoLabs, where the Cosmos 2361 spacecraft and an SL-8 rocket body came within six meters of each other. “This bill will spur development of the technology needed to remove the most hazardous waste before it brings down a satellite – or worse, a NASA mission.”

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