Experts Say Much More Required to Avoid Satellite Collisions, Space Debris

Space debris

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Senate and House committees held hearings on consecutive days last week about space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM), i.e., the ability to accurately track objects in Earth orbit and to avoid dangerous collisions that could knock out satellites and even render entire orbits unusable.

The overall conclusion was that, although progress is being made, we’re not nearly as aware as we need to be as orbital debris poses an ever bigger problem and companies prepare to launch tens of thousands of new satellites.

“Near Earth space is geo-politically contested, it’s commercially contested and it’s in dire need of environmental protection because it is a finite resource,” said Moriba Jah, an associate professor of astronautics at the University of Texas.

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Space Commerce Office Seeks Major Budget Increase

Wilbur Ross

The Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) is seeking a major boost in its budget from $2.3 million to $15 million for fiscal year 2021.

The office’s director, Kevin O’Connell, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that the bulk of the increase would go toward improving space situational awareness (SSA) so objects in Earth orbit can be accurately tracked and collisions that increase space debris can be avoided.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wants OSC to be elevated from an office within NOAA to a higher profile bureau that would be headed by an assistant secretary. The new bureau would be in charge of non-military SSA activities and a host of other activities.

Congress has not approved either the creation of the bureau nor giving the Commerce Department authority over SSA. Different bills are pending in the Senate and House that address Ross’ plan and which government agency will oversee SAA activities.

Congress is now considering the FY 2021 budget proposal, which the Trump Administration unveiled last Monday.

House & Senate Hearings Set on Space Situational Awareness, Planetary Defense

House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

Space Situational Awareness

Tuesday, February 11, 2020
02:00 PM
2318 Rayburn House Office Building

Witnesses

Dr. Brian Weeden, Director of Program Planning, Secure World Foundation

Mr. Daniel Oltrogge, Co-Director, Space Safety Coalition, Founder and Administrator, Space Safety Coalition, AIAA Space Traffic Management Space Governance Task Force Chairman, Official International Standards Organization (ISO) representative to the United Nations Committee for the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UN COPUOS)

Professor Joanne Gabrynowicz, Professor Emerita of Space Law, University of Mississippi Law Center

Professor Danielle Wood, Director of the Space Enabled Research Group, Assistant Professor of Media Arts & Sciences and Aeronautics & Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Webcast

https://science.house.gov/hearings/space-situational-awareness-key-issues-in-an-evolving-landscape

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Space Missions of Global Importance: Planetary Defense, Space Weather Protection, and Space Situational Awareness

Wednesday, February 12, 2020
10:00 a.m
Hart Senate Office Building 216

The hearing will focus on U.S. leadership in space missions vital to the global economy and the protection of human health and life on Earth. Witnesses will also discuss policies, programs, and research that are important for planetary defense, space weather protection, and space situational awareness. 

Witnesses:*

Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Mr. William Murtagh, Director, Space Weather Prediction Center, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

Mr. Kevin O’Connell, Director, Office of Space Commerce, Department of Commerce

Dr. Moriba Jah, Associate Professor, Advanced Sciences and Technology Research in Astronautics, University of Texas

*Witness list subject to change

Webcast

Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing  will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.

Luxembourg, NorthStar Create Centre of Excellence for Clean Space

Luxembourg (Luxembourg Government PR) — The Luxembourg Government and NorthStar Earth & Space signed a Letter of Intent to create a Centre of Excellence for Clean Space in Luxembourg and to consider a contribution to NorthStar and its innovation activities in order to promote the safe and sustainable use of outer space for the benefit of all humanity.

The Centre will be operated by NorthStar in Luxembourg, it will deliver highly accurate Space Traffic Management and Space Situational Awareness information services. The Centre of Excellence for Clean Space will enable collaboration and cooperation with the international academic, industrial and governmental partners from the space and data analytics sectors already established in Luxembourg. This will promote an open, safe and sustainable use of outer space for the benefit of all mankind, common goals shared by Luxembourg and NorthStar.

Étienne Schneider, Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy stated: “The establishment of this Centre in the Grand-Duchy is in line with the country’s efforts to stimulate innovation and technological development in the data space sector. The project fits perfectly into our national data-based innovation strategy that aims at building a sustainable and reliable digital economy in general and the sustainable commercialization of space activities in particular.”

“The world faces global challenges which require technology companies and governments to innovate together,” said Stewart Bain, CEO and Co-Founder of NorthStar Earth & Space. “NorthStar is dedicated to developing solutions critical to space governance, security and sustainability.  As we move into the year 2020 and beyond, we are proud to have Luxembourg as our partner.”

Lasers at Forefront of Space Tracking Systems

CANBERRA (Australian Government PR) — The Australian Space Agency has signed a Statement of Strategic Intent and Cooperation with EOS Space Systems, an Australian company specialising in space tracking systems.

Anthony Murfett, Deputy Head of the Australian Space Agency said that the joint statement aligns with the Australian Civil Space Strategy, which sets out a 10-year plan to transform and grow the space industry.

“Space situational awareness and debris monitoring is one of the seven National Civil Space Priorities outlined in the Strategy,” said Mr Murfett

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Saber Astronautics Wins $2.1 Million Contract with RAAF for Space Domain Awareness

SYDNEY (Saber Astronautics PR) — Australia’s Department of Defence has awarded space engineering company Saber Astronautics a Defence Innovation Hub contract for an intelligent data fusion network to process a large number of space objects. The contract, valued at AUD $2.1M [USD $1.44 million] will use new and existing sensor networks to provide advanced insights in space domain awareness and democratise access to spacecraft location data.

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SIA Releases Principles of Space Safety for Commercial Satellite Industry

WASHINGTON, DC (SIA PR) — The Satellite Industry Association (SIA) today announced the release of a set of Principles of Space Safety, drafted to help protect freedom of use and long-term access to space by ensuring safe flight operations for satellites, human spacecraft and other space missions.

SIA is a U.S.-based trade association that for more than two decades has advocated on behalf of the U.S. satellite industry regarding policy, regulatory, and legislative issues affecting the commercial satellite business. 

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SMC Awards SBIR Phase 2 Contract for Space Situational Awareness

LOS ANGELES (USAF SMC PR) — The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Directorate of Special Programs (DirSP) awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 2 contract to Bluestaq LLC who will develop the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Marketplace program under the auspices of AFWERX.

AFWERX was created in 2017 by then Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to support rapid innovation within the Defense Department. SBIR is a prime example of the AFWERX goal of fostering a culture of innovation.

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SpaceNav Receives NOAA Contract for Space Situational Awareness

BOULDER, Colo. (SpaceNav PR) − SpaceNav, a Colorado-based engineering and applied mathematics company has been awarded a new contract by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to deliver subject matter expertise or Space Situational Awareness (SSA) operations. NOAA’s operational fleet of spacecraft resides in both Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) regimes and requires real-time safety of flight risk quantification and mitigation; precision orbit determination; and mission production generation.

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BAE Systems Wins DARPA Contract to Develop Machine Learning Capabilities for Space Situational Awareness

ARLINGTON, Va. (BAE Systems PR) — BAE Systems has been awarded a Phase 2 contract to develop machine learning capabilities aimed to help the military gain better awareness of space scenarios for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The goal of DARPA’s Hallmark Tools, Capabilities, and Evaluation Methodology (Hallmark-TCEM) program is to not only develop and evaluate tools and capabilities that increase an operator’s understanding of space events, but also enhance the ability to select effective courses of action for any given situation.

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ISRO to Create Space Situational Awareness Center

BENGALURU, India (ISRO PR) — Space Situational Awareness & Management (SSAM) has become an internationally significant area due to the ever growing man made space debris population and the increased collision threat with operational spacecraft.

ISRO Chairman K Sivan laid the foundation stone for Space Situational Awareness Control Centre at Peenya, Bengaluru on 2nd August, which is an important milestone in the progress of ISRO.

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Space Development Agency Seeks Next-Gen Architecture in First RFI

Figure 1: Notional architecture from SDA 60-day study. (Credit: Space Development Agency)

Space Development Agency
Next-Generation Space Architecture
Request for Information
SDA-SN-19-0001
July 1, 2019
[Full Solicitation]

SDA requests information from industry related to satellite bus, payload, applique, and launch concepts that can contribute to an agile, responsive next-generation space architecture. SDA has developed a notional suite of capabilities, as depicted in Figure 1, to include multiple constellations (or “layers”) addressing the eight priorities listed above. Each layer provides an integral and integrated capability to the overall architecture.

The SDA’s notional architecture is predicated on the availability of a ubiquitous data and communications transport layer and assumes the use of small, mass-produced satellites (50-500 kg) and associated payload hardware and software. The SDA is considering the use of transport layer spacecraft as substrates for other layers, allowing for the integration of appropriate payloads based on each layer’s needs.

Seven layers are proposed:

  1. Space Transport Layer: Global, persistent, low-latency data and communications proliferated “mesh” network to provide 24×7 global communications.
  2. Tracking Layer: Indications, warning, targeting, and tracking of advanced missile threats.
  3. Custody Layer: 24×7, all-weather custody of all identified time-critical targets.
  4. Deterrence Layer: Space Situational Awareness (SSA) of, and rapid access to, the cislunar volume.
  5. Navigation Layer: Alternate Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) for GPS-denied environments.
  6. Battle Management Layer: Distributed, artificial intelligence-enabled Battle Management Command, Control and Communications (BMC3), to include self-tasking, self-prioritization (for collection), on-board processing, and dissemination, supporting delivery of perishable space sensor-derived data products directly to tactical users.
  7. Support Layer: Mass-producible ground command and control capabilities, user terminals, and rapid-response launch services (small- to medium-class).

Proposed concepts should align to one or more of the layers described above. SDA prefers comprehensive solutions that include open architectures (e.g., buses that support multiple payloads and software appliques, and payloads/software capable of integration aboard multiple buses) and leverage commercial capabilities, existing or planned.











Made in Space Selected for Two NASA SBIR Phase II Awards

Made in Space will continue to pursue the development of advanced glass alloys and 3-D manufactured structures for space interferometry missions under a pair of contract awards from NASA.

The space agency selected the additive-manufacturing company for awards under phase II of its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The contracts are worth a maximum of $750,000 apiece for up to two years.

“The next step in the industrialization of LEO is the formulation of base materials, such as specialty glasses, that can be refined into higher value products in microgravity,” the company said in a summary of its proposal. “The Glass Alloy Manufacturing Machine (GAMMA) is an experimental system designed to investigate how these materials form without the effects of gravity-induced flows and inform process improvements for commercial product development.”

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US Air Force Selects Slingshot Aerospace to Bring AI to SSA

SpaceNews reports the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center has awarded a two-year $6 million contract to Slingshot Aerospace of Los Angeles to customize its artificial intelligence space situational awareness software for military use.

The commercially developed Orbital Atlas “will enable warfighters to pivot from traditional space situational awareness focusing on space catalog maintenance toward a more tactical, predictive solution,” said Melanie Stricklan, chief technology officer and co-founder of Slingshot Aerospace.

The company uses artificial intelligence to analyze data from satellites, aerial drones and other sources. Slingshot announced the Air Force award on Friday and will be demonstrating the Orbital Atlas this week at the Space Symposium’s “Orbit Lounge.”

The contract was a competitive award by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Superiority Systems Directorate. “SMC is eager to tap into the innovations of artificial intelligence and cloud computing,” Stricklan said.