Data Accuracy & Responsibility: Addressing the Next Crucial Steps in Space Traffic Management

Mark Dickinson By Mark Dickinson, Chairman, the Space Data Association

Space Traffic Management (STM) has been a major talking point in the industry over recent months and years. With the recent launches of many nanosats and CubeSats and the advent of mega constellations fast approaching, it is obvious that now, more than ever, action needs to be taken to improve space situational awareness (SSA) and STM. The question remains how we can best ensure safety of flight for all satellites and protect the space environment.


Data, Data, and More Data

It is clear that gathering data is absolutely crucial and something we all need to get better at. The more data we have, the more accurate we can be and the more actionable any collision warnings become. Currently, the Space Data Center (SDC), the operational arm of the Space Data Association (SDA), is collating member data and combining it with data from the public catalogue. With the owner operators also providing the data only they know, namely the future manoeuvre plans, it has the most complete picture and the SDC is able to warn operators of upcoming possible conjunctions to the best degree currently possible.

quoteHowever, as we move into the era in which the space environment gets more and more crowded, we will need more complete and accurate data. Firstly, we need to encourage more cooperation from civil, commercial and governmental operators from across the globe. The more operators who contribute their data, the better the overall accuracy that can be provided. In the future there will be a need to go beyond the current public catalogues, which have their limitations, and get to a situation in which we fuse data from multiple sensor networks, including commercial and institutional. A key attribute of these sensor networks is that, aside from increased sensitivity, the data must come with the transparency required to be able to calculate realistic covariance information, critical for the creation of actionable operational warnings. 

There have been a lot of developments in this arena and there are a number of solutions emerging which will enable the industry to track more objects and more effectively, which will result in a higher accuracy and larger catalogues. These will be game changing over the coming years and will have a massive positive impact in this arena.


Operator Responsibility

The tools are being put in place, however a significant responsibility remains with the individual operators. With many new players launching assets into space it is vital that all these operators understand their responsibilities and always adhere to best practices and international guidelines. This includes ensuring they seek the best, most actionable and timely collision avoidance SSA data, techniques and mitigation strategies. It will also include sharing their operational data with the wider industry. The SDA has clearly shown that its international data pooling approach, in which operational data is provided in a secure and legally protected manner, can go a very long way to securing our key assets, but also protect the space environment in all orbital regimes.  

Want to know more about Space Traffic Management developments? Join in on Mark’s presentation Stepping Forward on Space Situational Awareness through Implementing Operational Best Practices for Collision Avoidance at Space Tech Conference on Wednesday May 23.