FAA activates powerful new system to track spacecraft in near real time

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has activated a powerful new system that will allow it to track rocket launches in near real time, as well as spacecraft as they re-enter airspace from Earth en route to the ground. The new program is intended to increase the safety of the U.S. National Airspace System, the agency said, joining existing FAA air traffic management efforts.

The new capability is called Space Data Integrator (SDI), which is a prototype currently in service to receive data on rocket launches and reentry of spacecraft. The data includes important details such as the altitude and position of the rocket or spacecraft which are used to track the actual trajectory of a launch in addition to its intended trajectory.

SDI launch data is sent to the FAA’s Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS), which also receives Aircraft Hazardous Areas (AHAs) and current mission event status updates. From there, the TFMS displays the data on its traffic situation display located at the FAA Air Traffic Control System command center for the Air Traffic Organization’s space operations team. agency.

The FAA describes its SDI launch as opening the door to “more dynamic” management of the country’s airspace. This will, among other things, help reduce the time that other entities have to wait for the reopening of closed airspace amid rocket launches and re-entry of spacecraft.

According to the agency, SDI operations began on June 30 with the launch of SpaceX’s Transponder 2 mission from Cape Canaveral. The agency plans to use it for the upcoming SpaceX CRS-22 Dragon freighter launch to the ISS as well. Ultimately, the agency sees it as an “essential tool” for managing an increasingly busy national airspace, especially as the private space industry grows.