Startup Offers Tool to Help Predict, Coordinate Action on Orbital Collisions
A multi-company pilot program will test Slingshot Aerospace's chat-and-track software.
A startup thinks it has a better way to help satellite operators track potential orbital collisions—and talk about them with other companies and agencies.
The software from Slingshot Aerospace draws on data from both public sources and a company’s private information to give users a rundown of potential collisions, planned satellite maneuvers and a way to contact other operators. Users view a screen whose header gives information about current space weather conditions and how long until there is another risk of collision. Lower down, the left half of the screen is a chat platform, so operators can let others know how they plan to move their satellites to avoid collisions. The right side of the screen is a “decision log” where users can see their planned maneuvers.
“Today, [satellite] owner-operators are inundated with collision data messages,” said Melanie Stricklan, the CEO and co-founder of Slingshot Aerospace. “This gives them actionable information at their fingertips along with the ability to communicate across companies and internationally.”
Dubbed Slingshot Beacon, the software will be tested in a pilot program that includes satellite communications company OneWeb, data analytics specialist Spire Global, and Orbit Fab, which seeks to build orbital refueling stations for satellites, according to a Slingshot Aerospace press release.
The Pentagon is not involved in the pilot, though some of the companies participating in it have worked for the Defense Department. OneWeb, for example, received an Air Force contract in May to boost connectivity in the Arctic, and also recently acquired satellite communications company TrustComm to increase its business with the Pentagon.
But Stricklan said the technology could eventually lighten the load for troops tasked with tracking space objects today if the Defense Department adopted the system.
“Reducing uncertainty in any national security mission is of the highest importance. This capability gives whoever is on the platform the ability to reduce the uncertainty that exists today with all of the space debris and other objects that have grown exponentially over the last year alone,” she said. “It will reduce the workload they are now performing, producing hundreds of thousands of collision data messages a day.”
Stricklan said she has had “preliminary conversations” with the Defense Department about using the platform, and that “they’ve been positive.”
The product grew out of Hacking for Defense, a university course sponsored by the Defense Department that promotes partnerships between students and the national security community. One year, the program asked students to create a communications platform to improve space situational awareness. After the program, several students formed Stellatus Solutions LLC, which was acquired by Slingshot Aerospace in June, according to a press release.
Space is rapidly becoming more congested, especially as commercial companies launch constellations that include thousands of satellites. With this increased number of satellites comes an increased risk of collision: the number of times another satellite or piece of debris flies within one kilometer of a satellite doubled from 2,000 per month in 2017 to 4,000 per month today.