Commerce Department Awards Contracts for Space Traffic Coordination Pilot Project
On December 5, 2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s NOAA took a step forward in its plans to provide space traffic coordination services to commercial and civil satellite operators operating in the increasingly congested orbits around Earth.
As part of a new pilot project to provide spaceflight safety mission assurance to select spacecraft in the medium Earth orbit (MEO) and geostationary Earth orbit (GEO), NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) partnered with the Department of Defense to award seven contracts to U.S. commercial space firms for space situational awareness data analysis.
These commercial purchases will support real-time civil spaceflight safety functions, including satellite tracking, spaceflight safety analysis and notification and anomaly detection and alerting over a two month period starting December 5, 2022. Contracts were awarded to COMSPOC Corp., ExoAnalytic Solutions, Kayhan Space, KBR, NorthStar Earth & Space Inc., Slingshot Aerospace and the Space Data Association.
“This pilot project helps usher in a new phase in how government and commercial operators work together to coordinate activities on-orbit,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. “NOAA looks forward to continued collaborations that safely enhance the economic and technical potential of the U.S. commercial space sector.”
The MEO/GEO pilot will explore how, and to what extent, commercial Space Situational Awareness (SSA) services can be used to augment or replace government services for commercial and civil space traffic coordination. Such services are currently provided by the Department of Defense. Pursuant to a Presidential directive with support from Congress and the National Space Council, the commercial and civil SSA services are to be migrated to the Commerce Department with initial operations by fiscal year 2024.
In September 2022, NOAA awarded five commercial data contracts for GEO space object tracking data that will also be used to support the pilot project. Taken together, the earlier contracts for space tracking data and the new contracts for space data analysis demonstrate the depth and breadth of the U.S. commercial SSA industry. Commercial capabilities will form the core of the Commerce Department’s SSA system.
The pilot project aims to demonstrate capability of U.S. commercial data products, analytics and services to provide holistic spaceflight safety mission assurance in the MEO and GEO orbit regimes. The pilot will involve members of the Space Data Association to collect feedback from commercial satellite operators on the usefulness of the service provided.
At the conclusion of the pilot, NOAA’s OSC will assess the contribution of the commercial capabilities against a benchmark of present services to determine the maturity of wholly commercial capabilities. The MEO/GEO pilot will also inform OSC’s future development of operational SSA capabilities that will cover the broader space environment, including low Earth orbit (LEO).
OSC is the principal unit for the coordination of space-related issues, programs and initiatives within the Commerce Department. Its mission is to foster the conditions for the economic growth and technological advancement of the U.S. commercial space industry. OSC is working closely with the Department of Defense on the MEO/GEO pilot project and the overall migration of commercial and civil SSA responsibilities to the Commerce Department.