Reliable and responsive space situational awareness (SSA) services are needed more than ever before, and the need is growing every day. This is for reasons that all are now very familiar with, namely the increasing levels of debris and adversarial behavior in space.
That much everyone agrees on. When it comes to what it takes and how long it will be until we to get there, there are many varied opinions, most addressing some subset of the overall task. There are no technical obstacles preventing the delivery of such services. It only requires able service providers willing to invest and put it all together. This involves procuring sensor data, integrating and processing it, and managing the distribution of the finished SSA data services.
Many options exist for procuring sensor data. Optical, radar, passive RF systems are commercially accessible from multiple suppliers at a variety of accuracy and quality levels.
With regard to integrating and processing, there are frequently calls for the invention of new algorithms. Proven algorithms exist to transform the large volumes of raw sensor data into a coherent real-time situational awareness picture of what is happening in space. There is no algorithm gap preventing the implementation of SSA services. They are available right now. Algorithms, however, are only one prerequisite. Also required in a smoothly operating SSA factory are disciplined operational processes, dedicated resources, high levels of automation, regular calibration and consistency checking, all running continuously. While these other elements are not as sexy as new algorithms, they are absolutely important to produce robust SSA.
Distributing the continuous flow of finished SSA data also requires a sophisticated capability. Automation, data handling and messaging, fine-grained permission controls need to be implemented in a highly secure and highly available manner that also maximizes usability.
SSA service customers need to know their operational needs will be consistently addressed. Ad hoc or best-effort approaches are in almost all cases insufficient, particularly for SSA consumers requiring comprehensive situational awareness and near-real-time detection of any activity out of the ordinary. SSA service providers need to be prepared to sign definitive service level agreements.
All the pieces are in place and high-value SSA services are being delivered right now. For an SSA services business to stay competitive, a process of continuous improvement is also required. Improving operational best practices, evaluating and onboarding new sensors and algorithms, and addressing developing market and customer needs are fundamental to the business. Having said no new algorithms were needed to start the business, continued R&D and improvement is essential for its success and longevity.
Reliable and responsive SSA services are readily available. The technology exists today to address the urgent threats presented by the growing levels of space debris and adversarial behaviors in
space. These services are the shortest path to mitigating these threats and the minimum plateau from which any entity should start from to mitigate the growing challenges in the space environment.
Paul Welsh is vice president of business development at Analytical Graphics Inc., which has built a space-object tracking center known as the ComSpoc.