Good morning. Please join us in wishing a belated happy birthday to Rachael, Payload’s reporter extraordinaire. It was last Saturday, but she plans on celebrating the bday this weekend, so well wishes are still in order.
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🌐 Debris, Part III
📝 Contract report
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Regulating Orbital Debris, Part Three
In the past few years, the amount of active satellites in orbit has (literally) skyrocketed, and we can expect thousands more to find their place in the orbital commons over the next decade.
We may not have the ability to proverbially sweep up in orbit, but we do have the power of foresight. At humanity’s disposal are technologies that military, civil, and commercial operators have actively tapped for decades to track threats, predict potential collisions, and when applicable, steer around them.
Those technologies, space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM), help operators to protect their satellites and prevent on-orbit collisions that could generate fields of debris. Still, these technologies are imperfect, and inaccuracies in tracking and maneuver reporting introduce risks that only increase as LEO gets denser.
For the final installment of our orbital debris series, we spoke with experts in SSA and STM to understand how satellite tracking and STM can protect Earth orbits. We also explore where improvements are needed. Here’s a preview…
- On predicting orbits: “The Earth is not round. Gravity is not constant,” said Andrew D’Uva, president of Providence Access Company. “There are multiple forces in space…that are perturbing orbits, so things don't just continue to orbit the Earth in a very predictable way. Predicting those orbits, depending on many, many factors, actually requires a lot of force.”
- On accurate conjunction reporting: “Operators receive conjunction alerts often, and they are often false alarms or close approaches that don’t actually need maneuvers.” said Slingshot CEO Melanie Stricklan. “That racks up a bill.”
- On cooperation in orbit: “Just as it's not really tenable for a spacecraft operator to be an island—they need to work with the other ones—it's now untenable also for SSA systems…to think that they're an island,” said Daniel Oltrogge, COMSPOC’s chief scientist.
With more satellites in orbit, the lead time of warning before a potential collision will shrink, and the risk of conflicting maneuvers will grow. Operators need more precise tracking data and better communication with their neighbors in orbit to protect the orbital commons.
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In Other News
- Rocket Lab ($RKLB) and SpaceX are set to launch Synspective’s StriX-1 and a set of Starlink satellites today, respectively, after both launchers scrubbed earlier in the week due to weather.
- NZ8844, an Air New Zealand flight, was the first to take off recently with a new NASA sensor equipped. The Kiwi airliner has joined with NASA to contribute to Earth science and climate research missions.
- An apparent meteor was spotted Wednesday evening over Scotland and Northern Ireland. The UK Meteor Network, a citizen scientist collective, says it’s collected 200+ sightings so far.
- Payload-endorsed headline…“Asking the Public to Name Probe to Uranus May Have Been a Mistake.”
The Contract Report
We’ve got a stacked contract report this week, thanks to the time-worn industry tradition of releasing all the news all at once during marquee conferences. For your easy perusing pleasure, we’ve broken out this week’s contracts into buckets.
Collins Aerospace won a $68.6M contract to supply the US Army with mounted PNT systems, while Utah State’s SDL received a $75M US Navy award for advanced sensor R&D. SciTec won a $272M USSF contract to build analytics tools for early-warning infrared satellite data. Airbus, meanwhile, inked deals with the Ministries of Defense of Czech Republic and the Netherlands to provide satellite communications over 15 years. Finally, Sierra Space and USTRANSCOM signed a CRADA to co-develop high-mach terrestrial cargo delivery capabilities using Dream Chaser. SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and now Sierra are working with the US military on point-to-point Earth transport using space vehicles.
Ball ($BALL) Aerospace won a NASA mission study contract for the Survey and Time-domain Astrophysical Research Explorer (STAR-X) project. Rocket Factory Augsburg and ESA signed a “Boost!” contract. NASA is funding three research proposals on the topic of space sustainability, focusing on the economic, social, and policy impacts.
Airbus OneWeb Satellites (AOS) contracted MDA to build Ka-Band steerable antennas for its Arrow line of commercial smallsats. Iridium ($IRDM) and SpaceX finalized a launch services deal to deliver five Iridium NEXT spares to orbit via Falcon 9 rideshare in mid-2023. KT Sat has contracted Thales Alenia to build Koreasat 6A, a GEO communications satellite. Elsewhere, Speedcast signed a reseller agreement with SpaceX (a first for Starlink). The satellite service provider will be able to use Starlink capacity and offer connectivity from the SpaceX constellation to maritime and enterprise clients.
Redwire ($RDW) and Sodern are partnering to produce the Eagle Eye star tracker. SkyFi signed SIIS and Geosat as new partners (via Payload). Spire ($SPIR) and GHGSat have linked up to monitor emissions from space. Next year, Spire will launch three 16U satellites equipped with GHGSat’s payload. Today, Ursa Space and Unseenlabs said they’d team up on dark vessel detection efforts.
The View from Space
The UK has banned kites, drones, and balloons from flying over London between Friday afternoon and Monday, the day of the Queen’s funeral. Heathrow airport said it may also change some flights Monday, so as to not add noise pollution overhead.
Imaging satellites don’t pose any disturbances, though. So long as it’s not cloudy—which is far from a given—we could see some special satellite shots of city-wide preparation over the weekend.