With space launches occurring more frequently, the skies are getting crowded, requiring new technology that the Federal Aviation Administration says will minimize potential conflicts.
Why it matters: Each time a satellite — or billionaire — is launched into space, the FAA has to close airspace to commercial airlines. That requires pilots to reroute and take less-efficient paths, often resulting in delays for airline passengers.
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What’s happening: The FAA is rolling out a system that allows it to track a space launch or reentry vehicle in near-real time as it travels through the National Airspace System.
The Space Data Integrator (SDI) prototype automatically delivers data about a rocket’s position, altitude and speed to the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center.
Knowing precisely where a rocket is — including whether it deviates from its expected flight path — allows air traffic controllers to better manage federal airspace.
The system can also display and share “aircraft hazard areas” that may contain falling debris from a launch or reentry vehicle.
Four commercial space companies — SpaceX, Blue Origin, Firefly and the Alaska Aerospace Corporation — have agreed to share data with the FAA.
Driving the news: The technology was first used June 30 with the SpaceX Transporter-2 launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
What they’re saying: “This is a critical tool as the number of users of our already busy airspace increases,” said FAA administrator Steve Dickson.
The bottom line: The cadence of space launches has been rapidly increasing, from once a year in 2011 to about once a month in 2016, and now roughly once a week.
In 2020, the FAA safely managed 45 space launches and reentries into the National Airspace System, the most in the agency’s history. For 2021, that number could exceed 70.
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