The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in the early stages of creating its own space situational awareness (SSA) capability, much like the Defense Department’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) Mission System (JMS), to help the agency with collision avoidance for commercial space vehicles.
FAA Director of Commercial Space Integration Michael Romanowski told an audience Tuesday the administration is performing systems engineering and market work in collaboration with DoD and industry. Romanowski said with the considerable growth in orbital operations, reentry into earth’s atmosphere and increasing complexity of those reentries, the FAA wants to get ahead of the game.
“We have to start doing some of the planning and execution for those reentries much earlier,” Romanowski said at an event hosted by the Secure World Foundation in Washington. “The collision avoidance considerations…we believe we can optimize (them) much more effectively if we’re able to assess the risk of collision avoidance at the FAA (instead) of relying on the good work that DoD’s been doing on our behalf.”
JMS, run by the Air Force, identifies, analyzes and maintains space objects at a given time to provide a robust and accurate space-operating picture, according to DoD. It also provides, among others capabilities, launch and reentry support, providing awareness and warning of potential threats to space systems, including thorough knowledge and rapid identification of all objects being launched into, traveling through, or deorbiting from space.
Romanowski said FAA focuses on launch and reentry operations of spacecraft. He said it often closes hundreds of square miles of air space from airplane traffic for periods of time for simple reentry operations like NASA’s Orion space capsule or Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s (SpaceX) Dragon rocket. As the complexity of reentry operations increases with potential space boosters landing on land, as opposed to the traditional ocean, Romanowski said the FAA will have to start making reentry decisions on a “half-dozen” reentry sites fairly late.
The FAA’s own JMS, Romanowski said, would help ease decision making with regards to the size of reentry hazard areas and how reentry profiles affect air traffic routes. The Air Force did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
FAA spokesman Hank Price said Tuesday the administration’s “collision avoidance capability” system is in its early stages and the agency is working out the details. Meanwhile, Price said, the FAA will continue to rely on DoD for launch and reentry collision avoidance capability.