Improving satellite collision prediction for more efficient space exploration
Updated: Jun 27, 2022
“As the space environment scales rapidly, so too must the SSA capabilities needed to support that growth,”
Helping operators steer satellites away from potential collisions in increasingly packed orbits is a key driver for improving space traffic management, but also important is knowing when fuel draining detours are not needed.
Current monitoring and tracking systems cannot pinpoint the exact location and trajectory of the vast amount of objects in near-Earth orbit. They instead rely on probabilities that feed into the conjunction alerts sent to operators, which then take action if the risk of a collision is high enough for them.
Robert Sproles, senior director of constellation planning and operations at Spire, which operates more than 100 smallsats in LEO, said the company receives an average 12 conjunction data messages every day from the Space Force’s 18th Space Defense Squadron surveillance unit.
Sproles did not say how often Spire maneuvers satellites in response to collision threats, but said its risk classification system has three categories:
• GREEN for when the probability is less than 0.1% and no action is needed.
• YELLOW when it is between 0.1-1% and needs a closer look to see which direction the alerts are trending. If applicable, Spire reaches out to other operators to start coordination procedures, but no maneuver is scheduled yet.
• RED when the probability of a collision is greater than 1% and requires action, which starts with coordination with the other operator and may or may not result in one or both of them taking action.