WASHINGTON — Space sustainability company Slingshot Aerospace announced Tuesday it will release a free version of its Beacon platform, which alerts operators to potential satellite collisions.
“Ensuring the safety of current and future satellites in orbit is paramount to maintaining space as a safe operating environment,” Slingshot’s CEO Melanie Stricklan said in a statement. “This is why we are offering Slingshot Beacon for free so that all space operators around the world can coordinate, communicate and deconflict spaceflight risk.”
The company offers a premium version of the tool, which includes more analytics and automation capabilities.
While the U.S. Department of Defense and commercial space operators are concerned about the risk of space debris from defunct space systems and other objects, Slingshot’s analysis indicates that 30% of the collision alerts operators receive are for potential contact between active satellites. That percentage will likely grow over the next decade as commercial companies and government agencies make plans to launch approximately 17,000 satellites over that period, according to a December 2021 report from global strategy firm Euroconsult.
With Beacon, space operators can visualize satellites on orbit, evaluate the risk of collision and coordinate with other operators in their decision-making process.
Slingshot announced last month it had acquired two space object tracking products that will boost the capability offered through Beacon. The first, Numerica Corporation’s space domain awareness division, offers a unique optical sensor network that operates day and night. Slingshot also purchased Seradata, a U.K.-based company that runs the industry-leading satellite and launch database, SpaceTrak.
Stricklan told C4ISRNET in a recent interview the two products significantly improve the quality and amount of data that Beacon draws from and “allows operators around the globe coordination and collaboration with the right information at the right time.”
Domain awareness, Stricklan said, is a key part of moving toward a more sustainable space environment and is central to Slingshot’s mission. She added that while DoD may opt for terminology like “space control” and “space situational awareness” rather than “sustainability,” there is a lot of alignment between the military’s needs and those of the broader space community.
“There’s been an unprecedented increase in objects on orbit and that brings an unprecedented risk of collision with other operational sets of spacecraft or debris,” Stricklan said. “DoD is just as vulnerable to these things as the commercial sector, so space sustainability stretches across all of that.”
Along those lines, the Defense Department recently signed a memorandum of agreement to begin shifting responsibilities for managing space traffic to the Department of Commerce. The move, announced last week, is a step toward implementing a 2018 presidential policy directive that required the agencies to collaborate on domain awareness technology and put the Commerce Department in charge of managing space object warning and tracking.
The Commerce Department in July released a request for proposals seeking commercial space situational awareness information to help build an open-architecture database. Stricklan said Slingshot is in “active communication” with the agency about the role the company could play in future pilot programs.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.