Startups are working on a space traffic monitoring program to aid in the management of the rising debris problem

Scout Space, a startup, announced on November 16 that it had received a contract from the United States Air Force to combine data from ground sensors and satellites that track objects in orbit. The company will try to show that data collected in orbit, when paired with data from standard ground sensors, increase space debris tracking accuracy and can assist detect accidents.

The two-year-old Alexandria, Virginia-based startup is hoping that the Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award valued at $50,000 is going to lead to larger agreements for a space-tracking service it is developing in collaboration with Kayhan Space, which is a space traffic management as well as collision avoidance software startup. The SBIR grant, according to Sergio Gallucci, who is the Scout chief technology officer and co-founder, is the first step in the company’s efforts to grab the attention of the government officials seeking answers to the expanding debris problem.

“Improved data, as well as new data modalities, are required for orbital debris and collision concerns,” Gallucci added. He noted that having sensors in orbit viewing objects up close is one approach to gather better data. “Ground-based sensors have inherent limitations in terms of what they can achieve cost-effectively.” Scout’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Eric Ingram described one of the biggest challenges as “educating the marketplace on the new product as well as a new capability.”

“There is widespread agreement that we require better data and better means to gather that data,” he added, “but there isn’t universal accord on the best route to get there or the best modalities.” “We’re attempting to combine the notion that this is an issue that needs to be solved with the reality that we do have solutions.”

According to Ingram, Scout’s first target client is the satellite service industry. In June, the business launched its first payload on Orbit Fab’s Tanker-001 Tenzing spacecraft, which is used to refuel the satellites in orbit. The next stage, according to Ingram, is to fly sensor payloads on Scout’s 6U cubesats known as OVER-sats. “We plan to shift those to favorable orbital positions to provide neighborhood surveillance capabilities, effectively turning them into space traffic cameras.”

The Scout payloads may, in theory, function as collision avoidance assists on any satellite delivering internet or imaging services, rather than building a new constellation for space monitoring, according to Ingram. “We’re keeping it modular so that it can be used by anyone to improve space safety.” As a result, the data does not have to be provided by specialized assets.”

Scout has secured venture capital in a pre-seed round, according to Ingram, and is “in the midst of securing a seed round.” We estimate that a combination of government and commercial funding will be required to take this off the ground.”

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