Satellite operators’ situational awareness data isn’t precise enough to support their decisions on whether as well as how to maneuver the spacecraft to prevent potential collisions.
Officials from the COMSPOC Corporation, which focuses on the commercial space situational awareness (SSA), began to look at the numerous approaches satellite operators utilized to determine if they needed to make a collision prevention maneuver and likened it to the validity of the data, they used in a presentation given at Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies (AMOS) Conference on September 15.
A poll of members who are part of the Space Data Association (SDA), which is a group of the satellite operators, disclosed no general agreement in the requirements they utilized to ascertain what is a “high-interest” close strategy in either geostationary orbit or low Earth orbit, according to Dan Oltrogge, who works as the director in charge of the integrated operations as well as research at the COMSPOC. GEO operators, for example, utilize a threshold of 1,000 to 15,000 meters predicted miss distance and a likelihood of collision of 1 in 10,000 to about 1 in 1 billion.
“They were employing all over the place in terms of criteria and thresholds,” he said. “Perhaps it’s impossible to expect them to be identical since each operator has diverse levels of competence, as well as varying amounts of resources and SSA data. However, we were struck by how unlike these things are.”
COMSPOC then examined how effectively existing SSA data helps those operators’ decision-making processes once they had a better understanding of those drastically different thresholds. “Traditional data isn’t matching their requirements. It’s not precise enough to be used the way it’s being used,” Oltrogge added.
As proposed by COMSPOC, data fusion is a method of combining freely available SSA data, such as that from the US government, with additional data, like the operator’s own knowledge of the satellites and commercial SSA data. “We were able to generate a much better image of what’s going on by blending all of those together and taking in the operator’s intended maneuvers and the operator’s spacecraft dimensions,” he said. “We’re pretty close to fulfilling those accuracy standards.”
This necessitates a shift in operators’ mindsets. He explained, “We have a tradition here of using the best available data and making the assumption that’s all we have, so let’s be pleased with it.” “Instead, I urge us to work out what accuracies we require as a community, and then establish out what we require to satisfy those requirements.”
According to Oltrogge, there are indicators that operators are eager to exchange SSA data. “If you can combine it with the government SSA observations and private SSA observations in a full data fusion system, you can get highly precise and actionable SSA products.”