Commerce Department outlines plans for basic space traffic management service

WASHINGTON — The Commerce Department has outlined the services it proposes to offer free to satellite operators from the space traffic management system it is developing.

In a request for information (RFI) published Jan. 26, the department’s Office of Space Commerce listed what services it expects to offer through a “basic” space security service and the more advanced services that will not be included.

The Office of Space Commerce plans to provide these services through a system called the Traffic Management System for Space (TraCSS), formerly known as the Open Architecture Data Warehouse. The office is developing TraCSS to eventually take over the provision of civilian space traffic management services, such as warnings of potential collisions, from the Ministry of Defense as outlined in Space Policy Directive 3 in 2018.

The RFI lists 14 services that the office expects to offer through TraCSS as part of the free basic service to satellite operators. They include warnings of potential collisions, launch collision avoidance screening and object re-entry alerts.

Many of these services are provided by the Department of Defense now, although the RFI indicates that it will provide additional or enhanced services beyond what is currently available. One example is what the Office of Space Commerce calls “more advanced approaches” to calculate the probability of a collision based on the dynamics of each close approach.

The RFI lists nine additional services that it does not plan to include in the basic service. It includes combining data from multiple providers into a “single, higher quality product” for calculating potential conjunctions, detecting and tracking satellite outages, and providing optimized recommendations for satellite maneuvers to avoid conjunctions.

The Office of Space Commerce outlined its TraCSS plans to get feedback from both satellite operators and companies that provide commercial space traffic services. The RFI will be open for comments through February 27.

The office seeks input on whether the proposed basic service meets or exceeds what the Ministry of Defense currently offers, and whether it should include additional capacities. It also asks whether the proposed basic service will have a negative impact on companies providing commercial services.

While Space Policy Directive 3 required the Department of Commerce to provide a basic space traffic management service at no cost, it did not define what constitutes basic. “That line is a little blurry,” Richard DalBello, director of the Office of Space Commerce, said of the difference between basic and advanced services in a speech at the AMOS conference in September. “We don’t want to compete with young companies. On the other hand, we want to offer a forward-looking, technologically superior product compared to what they receive today.”

He noted in that speech that the feedback he had received from satellite operators is that they wanted his office to improve what the Department of Defense provides. “The central message that we’re getting from the commercial sector is: ‘Richard, if all you’re going to do is give us what we’re already getting from the Department of Defense, we don’t think that’s enough,'” he said. .

The Office of Space Commerce is working to establish TraCSS as low Earth orbit becomes more congested. The most recent incident took place on January 27, according to LeoLabsa company that provides space situational awareness services through a network of radars that track objects in LEO.

The company said two defunct objects, the Cosmos 2361 spacecraft and an SL-8 rocket body, nearly collided at an altitude of 984 kilometers. LeoLabs estimated the distance of closest approach to be only six meters, with a margin of error of a few tens of meters.

“Had the SL-8 rocket body and Cosmos 2361 collided, it likely would have resulted in thousands of new debris fragments that would have persisted for decades,” the company stated.

Because both objects were decommissioned, there was no way for them to avoid a collision even if given advance warning by a public or commercial space traffic control system. “It is important that we not only focus on avoiding collisions, but also reducing waste and cleaning up debris,” LeoLabs said. “This requires investment in technologies and missions for debris removal.”

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