New Tool Helps FAA Track Space Vehicles in Airspace

 - July 9, 2021, 7:18 AM

The FAA is implementing a Space Data Integrator (SDI) prototype that will enable the agency to track a space launch or reentry vehicle traveling through the national airspace (NAS) in near real-time.

SDI will automate the delivery of vehicle-related telemetry data to the FAA Air Traffic Control Command Center, “vastly” improving the agency’s ability to track those vehicles and increasing its ability to manage air traffic during space operations. This data includes vehicle position, altitude, speed, and any deviations. In addition, it provides for tracking during the full flight to enable the FAA to monitor performance and can display hazard areas should debris fall from the vehicle.

Becoming operational recently, the SDI capability was first used with the June 30 SpaceX Transponder 2 launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, the agency said. The next opportunity will be during the upcoming planned reentry of the SpaceX CRS-22 Dragon vehicle as it returns from the International Space Station with cargo.

“This is a critical tool as the number of users of our already busy airspace increases,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “With this capability, we will be able to safely reopen the airspace more quickly and reduce the number of aircraft and other airspace users affected by a launch or reentry.”

The FAA currently closes airspace for extended periods as a vehicle travels through the NAS during a launch or reentry.

Space operators are sharing the telemetry data on a voluntary basis. Last year, the FAA managed 45 space launches and reentries into the NAS, the most in the agency’s history. This year, that number is anticipated to exceed 70.