FAA activates system to track space launch, reentry vehicles
(15 Jul 2021) The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it can now track a space launch or reentry vehicle in near-real time as it travels through the National Airspace System.
The Space Data Integrator (SDI) prototype automates the delivery of vehicle-related telemetry data to the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center. This vastly improves the FAA's situational awareness of where the vehicle is as it travels to space or as it returns to the Earth. In addition to existing tools, the FAA also can use SDI to manage air traffic more efficiently as a space operation progresses and address contingencies in the event of an anomaly during a mission.
The SDI capability recently became operational and was first used with the 30 June SpaceX Transponder 2 launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It will next be used with the upcoming reentry of the SpaceX CRS-22 Dragon vehicle carrying cargo on its return trip from the International Space Station.
Currently, the FAA has to close airspace for extended periods of time when a launch or reentry vehicle travels through the National Airspace System. SDI will allow the FAA to more dynamically manage airspace and minimise the impact on other airspace users.
Telemetry data provided via SDI includes vehicle position, altitude, speed, and if it deviates from its expected flight path. It also displays tracking for the vehicle during its full flight and allows the FAA to monitor whether the vehicle is performing as planned. In addition, the SDI capability is able to display and share aircraft hazard areas that may potentially contain falling debris from a launch or reentry vehicle.
Space operators share the telemetry data on a voluntary basis. SpaceX is the first company to participate and has provided data to the FAA since 2016 in the early stages of the SDI concept research and development. Other partners include Blue Origin, Firefly, and the Alaska Aerospace Corporation.
Reference: FAA PR