As mega constellation development continues, the need for effective, and efficient space traffic management will inevitably increase.Constellations, such as OneWeb’s WorldVu, SpaceXs’ StarLink, (and many others), once fully deployed will add over 26,000 orbiting objects around earth.
At the time of this writing, there are approximately 19,500 objects. That means traffic will more than double inside a decade! Not only will space become more congested, but individual satellites will rapidly gain capability by utilizing new maneuvering technology.
For example, we’ve seen typical school-bus size satellites maintain orbit and maneuver through their lifecycle by carrying large on-board fuel reserves. Small satellite technology is enabling similar maneuvering capability through attitude adjustments relative to conditions, such as atmospheric drag and solar radiation pressure, eliminating the need to carry onboard fuel when used in conjunction with ion thrusters. Through this technology, creating multi-smallsat phased array antennas or proximity operation missions will be a reality before we know it, and in many cases, already is.
Yes, that blue marble swarmed by satellites is Earth today!
Among many other problems that the increase in traffic brings to the table, are commercial communication jamming and difficultly in GEO tracking, which is a result of general congestion and optical sensor light obscurations.
Notional communication interference graphic depicting GEO belt uplink quality with nearby jamming satellite
So, how do we monitor such complex systems? Analytical Graphics (AGI) is here to help. Innovations led by the commercial sector are drastically changing the space industry landscape, and through development of software toolsets in the aforementioned realm, AGI is no exception.
AGI offers solutions to a wide breadth of problems that we’ll be seeing as space traffic grows. For example, optical sensor operators or astronomers can determine which space objects will potentially obstruct their field of view by easily importing catalogs in past, present, or future analyses. This check can be done in any time-dependent, geometric sensor setup to gain both visual and numerical results in Systems Tool Kit (STK).
Or, in the case of potential communications interference, an engineer can define a system with extremely high fidelity and measure the quality of communications to expect at any given time. The same type of analysis can be applied in post mission anomaly resolution practice, as well.
A few other operational tasks that will experience stress from the increase in traffic will be the ability to maintain accurate spacecraft position and orbit determination.
Most importantly, accurately predicting and assessing the potential for satellite collisions. AGI technology lends itself to each one of these crucial spaceflight dependencies, and many more, through a highly robust physics-based, time-dynamic visual platform. Learn more about Systems Tool Kit and its supporting Space Situational Awareness capabilities.
Two notional satellites at GEO enter a conjunction as their covariance ellipsoids intersect.
Given the obvious increase in the complexity of our domain, the need to accurately determine and manage orbits in real-time will become paramount. The good news is that the ground operations technology is ahead of the game. When systems incorporating these mega constellations eventually deploy, AGI software will be standing by to help you manage national security, human spaceflight, and worldwide communications.