This Startup's Free Software Could Prevent Satellite Collisions

Slingshot Aerospace is rolling out a free version of its space traffic control software to satellite operators around the world.

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The company launched its Beacon software a year ago.
The company launched its Beacon software a year ago.
Photo: Slingshot Aerospace

Space is getting a little too crowded, increasing the risk of orbital collisions. Slingshot Aerospace, a company specializing in space data analytics, is now offering a solution to regulate some of the traffic up there. The company announced on Tuesday that it is rolling out a free version of its space traffic control system to help satellite operators dodge collisions.

“Space connects every single one of us every day,” Melanie Stricklan, co-founder and CEO of Slingshot Aerospace, told Gizmodo. “Our lives have become dependent upon space, and that dependency means that there’s actually a growing vulnerability,” requiring us to better “manage these critical assets that are over our heads.”

The company’s Slingshot Beacon software works like an air traffic control system, but for spacecraft in orbit. It pulls in public and private data provided by Slingshot’s customers to create a space catalog. The system then sends out urgent collision alerts to satellite operators worldwide, coordinates satellite maneuvers should there be a risk of collision, and allows operators to communicate with each other, especially during high-risk moments.


Slingshot Aerospace launched Beacon a year ago and is now offering a free basic version to satellite operators in hopes of increasing the number of users on its platform. “We’ve been testing it for the past year with a select few so as not to get overwhelmed by the data,” Stricklan said. “And we have 100% confidence that we are ready to scale to a global scale.” By offering the free version, the company anticipates that some satellite operators will seek the software’s advanced options, which offer more accurate and refined data.

There are more than 9,800 satellites in orbit today, with more than 115,000 planned to launch by 2030, according to Slingshot’s space object database. And that’s in addition to the thousands of pieces of space junk currently in orbit around our planet. Some satellite operators are currently working with outdated technology that wasn’t designed for the volume of spacecraft in orbit today, making then unreliable when it comes to issuing warnings of potential in-space collisions. “There’s a lot of noise out there,” Stricklan said. “They’re getting thousands of [collision warnings] a day, so it just turns into noise.”


The U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Defense Squadron provides satellite operators with collision warnings, but it often generates thousands of warnings that include those with very little chances of collision. But Slingshot Beacon promises a more accurate model that eliminates the extra noise and helps satellite operators navigate a more crowded orbit.

“Right now, there’s not really a way to grab on to the debris and deorbit it,” Stricklan said. “We can’t continue to study the problem, we have to have capabilities like Slingshot out there that can present a solution...time is of the essence.”


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