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LeoLabs, Slingshot Aerospace, and COMSPOC to Provide Pathfinder SSA Project for the Office of Space Commerce

By Rachel Jewett | January 19, 2024

      Image of orbital debris generated from a distant oblique angle. Photo: NASA

      The Office of Space Commerce (OSC) is kicking off a commercial pathfinder project to support space situational awareness (SSA) services, placing orders for commercial data with COMSPOC, LeoLabs, and Slingshot Aerospace

      OSC announced Jan. 19 that the three companies will conduct a pathfinder of the Traffic Coordination System for Space (TraCSS). 

      This is part of a years-long effort for OSC to take over space situational awareness (SSA) services from the U.S. Department of Defense, as directed by the White House in Space Policy Directive-3, issued in 2018. The policy assigned the Department of Commerce (DOC) the responsibility to provide basic SSA and space traffic coordination services to commercial and civil space operators.

      OSC has been working toward that transition and the resulting program is TraCSS, which OSC describes as a “modern, cloud-based IT system to provide basic SSA and space traffic coordination services to commercial and civil space operators for spaceflight safety, space sustainability, and international coordination.” 

      COMSPOC, LeoLabs, and Slingshot Aerospace, will perform a limited-term pathfinder, focusing on SSA for LEO. This will inform the buildout of the operational TraCSS. OSC said it will assess industry capabilities to maintain a space object catalog for a subset of LEO objects and provide follow-up tracking data on close approaches among those objects.  

      “Through this pathfinder, and others to follow, we are working diligently toward incorporating commercial capabilities into TraCSS,” said OSC Director Richard DalBello. “The Office of Space Commerce has always championed the government’s use of commercial space capabilities, and it is a core enabler of our own SSA program.” 

      COMSPOC will provide orbit determination services; LeoLabs will provide SSA data and services focused on LEO; and Slingshot Aerospace will also provide SSA data and services for LEO. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

      “Leveraging commercial expertise and technologies is the cornerstone to advancing our SSA capabilities and increasing space safety and sustainability,” COMSPOC said in a statement on the award. 

      LeoLabs CEO Dan Ceperley commented that space traffic coordination is critical for space safety, similar to air traffic management for flight safety. He cited that the number of satellites in LEO grew by around 45% in 2023 and is expected to grow by another 35% this year. 

      “This, coupled with the growth of space debris, means more coordination is needed to prevent collisions. LeoLabs is delighted to be a foundational layer of the U.S. Traffic Coordination System for Space, the world’s most advanced system enabling enhanced space safety and sustainability,” Ceperley commented. 

      Slingshot Aerospace said in a statement that the Slingshot Global Sensor Network will provide ground-based-optical space object tracking data for this project. The network is built on day/night telescopes and newly-deployed optical fence systems, deployed to detect and track LEO space objects.

      “The TraCSS operational system will play a critical role in ensuring spaceflight safety and clearly aligns with our mission of making space safe, sustainable, and secure. This is a monumental step toward civil space traffic coordination, and we are proud to be at the forefront of this historical shift,” Slingshot said in a statement.

      In addition,OSC is also preparing an order for another TraCSS pathfinder focused on improved satellite owner/operator ephemeris. OSC said it plans to seek participation from commercial SSA service providers in the spring. 

      DalBello spoke about the development of TraCSS in December in a Congressional hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Space and Science. 

      “We are pursuing a phased development approach for TraCSS to build up capabilities and ensure a smooth offloading of SSA and STC responsibilities from the DoD,” DalBello said. “TraCSS will ingest unclassified data from DoD and integrate commercial SSA data and services. Over time and with each phase, more commercial data and commercial SSA services will be integrated as core capabilities. This public-private collaboration will continue to evolve through ongoing research, integration, and testing.”