Getting SSA off the ground

Investors are funding orbital solutions for tracking space objects

Keeping close tabs on satellites and their increasingly crowded orbits requires exquisite spatial data that multiple startups say can only be gained from space.

At least eight early-stage companies in North America, Europe, and Australia have secured funds for space-based systems they say will be needed to provide more accurate, complete and reliable information about objects in space.

Some of these startups are chasing anticipated demand for guiding on-orbit servicers. Others see more potential in providing intricately detailed maps and trajectories of satellites, rocket stages and other objects across the near-space landscape.

Some envisage deploying hundreds of dedicated space situational awareness (SSA) satellites, whereas others opt to deploy their sensors on third-party spacecraft.

But while these early-stage ventures offer different solutions for improved SSA, they all believe the ground-based telescopes and radar currently used to keep tabs on-orbit will need an in-space assist to meet future demand.

Orbital SSA advocates say the tens of thousands of satellites bound for low Earth orbit (LEO) over the next decade will strain existing ground capabilities. Debris-causing events in LEO, such as November’s Russian anti-satellite weapon test, also compound the issue.


The U.S. Department of Defense’s ground-based Space Surveillance Network undergirds one of the most comprehensive catalogs of orbital observations. DoD’s publicly accessible database provides information about objects that are 10 centimeters or larger, and employs statistical models to infer the population of smaller objects. This means only 4% of current objects in LEO are detected, said Julien Cantegreil, CEO of French satellite-based SSA startup SpaceAble.

Rapidly expanding LEO constellations like Starlink and OneWeb will “make it more difficult and costly” for terrestrial…


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