Fact Sheet – The Space Data Integrator (SDI)

For Immediate Release

October 16, 2020
Contact: Eva Ngai
Phone: 202-267-8001/Email: eva.ngai@faa.gov

The Space Data Integrator (SDI) is the first of several new capabilities that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is developing to safely integrate commercial space vehicles into the National Airspace System (NAS).

Today, launch and reentry operators monitor data on the status of their missions and vehicles in real-time.To monitor a mission, a team of FAA air traffic and aerospace experts known as the Joint Space Operations Group (JSpOG), located at the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System David J. Hurley Air Traffic Control System Command Center, gathers operational data and sends the data using FAA communications tools to adapt airspace usage with incoming and outgoing operations. SDI will provide some much needed automation to improve the current operation.

SDI will provide capabilities that will receive and distribute launch and reentry data for initial use within the NAS to ensure public safety and allow for improved situational awareness and improved airspace management decision making. Initial NAS integration is anticipated with the FAA’s Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS) and the Range Risk Analysis Tool, which the FAA uses to generate aircraft hazard areas (AHAs). AHAs identify the airspace that could potentially contain falling debris from a launch or reentry vehicle that would be hazardous to aircraft. This helps to create a common operating picture designed to ensure safety, promote efficiency, and maintain air travel safety. With SDI, the FAA will begin to safely reduce the extent and duration of closed airspace to other NAS users as the mission progresses, respond effectively to contingencies, and quickly release airspace back to the NAS. SDI will allow the FAA to safely continue integration as well as keep pace with the increasing frequency and complexity of commercial launch and reentry operations.

How Does SDI Work?

SDI is designed to accept launch and reentry vehicle state data gathered from sources such as launch and reentry operators and spaceports. SDI will receive the data, process it, display it, and distribute it to TFMS and other tools as appropriate. SDI allows the FAA to track the actual versus planned trajectory of commercial launch and reentry operations, the status of various mission events, and the display of AHAs. SDI will send vehicle position and AHAs to TFMS so that the FAA JSpOG can use the information to ensure safety and make better airspace management decisions and have improved situational awareness of how the mission itself affects broader traffic in the NAS.

The History of SDI 

The SDI program began in 2014. Its initiation was driven by two main factors: the FAA’s experience working with NASA on Space Shuttle landings and the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy. During the tragedy, the FAA had difficulty ensuring aircraft avoided the falling debris. The FAA worked with NASA engineers to monitor the shuttle as it reentered over the NAS during all 22 missions after Columbia.

The lesson learned was that the FAA needed to increase its situational awareness during launch and reentry operations to aid in appropriate air traffic control. In addition, the FAA found the need to:

  • More accurately model a launch/reentry vehicle failure
  • Better identify potentially affected airspace
  • Assess impacts on air traffic
  • Quickly distribute information

Since then, the FAA has worked closely with industry stakeholders to identify opportunities to improve situational awareness, to safely reduce the amount of closed airspace necessary for a launch or reentry operation, to improve response effectiveness and timeliness for contingencies during launch or reentry operations, and to release closed airspace back to day-to-day flight operations quickly.

SDI Today

The FAA developed a prototype at the Commercial Space Integration lab at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J. that allows the primary users within the JSpOG to view the prototype in “shadow” mode, validating requirements and procedures, but not act on the data during actual launch and reentry operations. SpaceX volunteered to be the first industry partner to share data from its Dragon spacecraft vehicles during reentries from the International Space Station. Beginning with the Crew Resupply Services-8 mission in 2016, SpaceX has provided live data during every Dragon reentry, helping the FAA identify and verify its requirements using the prototype. The FAA then began exercising the SDI prototype in shadow mode at a Blue Origin launch of their New Shepard rocket in July 2018 from its West Texas launch site. This provided the FAA with the first opportunity to exercise the system for a suborbital launch.

Beyond SDI

SDI is the foundational component for integrating commercial space operations into the NAS. Subsequent concepts will follow that further mature integration efforts into remaining NAS automation systems including En Route Automation Modernization, Standard Terminal Automation Replacements System and Advanced Technologies and Oceanic Procedures. Additional capabilities include enhanced situational awareness on air traffic controller displays, improved monitoring and alerting for mission conformity, and faster hazard area computation and decision support capabilities. These capabilities will allow air traffic to better manage, route, and schedule aircraft during launch and reentry operations. The FAA is also investigating concepts around dynamic hazard areas to further increase safety and efficiency. This integration will ensure safety as the FAA keeps pace with the increasing frequency and complexity of commercial launch and reentry operations.

The end goal is to ensure we can optimize the safety, efficiency and integration of commercial space operations using our advanced automation tools. In the interim, the FAA is taking steps to allow operational use of the existing prototype while continuing to refine and validate requirements. This will allow the FAA to use the data to make airspace management decisions and improve situational awareness. The FAA anticipates achieving this capability by the end of calendar year 2020. Beyond Fiscal Year 2020, the FAA expects that additional deployments will follow to improve SDI operational capabilities and refine requirements. As SDI and other concepts mature, the level of sophistication of the capabilities will evolve.