Commercial Data Could Give Space Force Better Situational Awareness, Watchdog Says

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The Government Accountability Office noted this data could supplement existing DOD data and allow the information to be shared with other agencies.

The Defense Department’s Space Force could be using some commercial data to help monitor and assess objects in space for situational awareness, according to a Government Accountability Office report released on Monday. 

DOD has traditionally used its own systems for space situational awareness—or the monitoring of space objects and assessment of the possibility for these objects to collide with satellites. DOD currently employs space and ground-based sensors for observations, which operators use to analyze and predict potential future collisions between objects in space.

However, GAO noted that commercial companies are “collecting more and more data on space objects that DOD could use to maintain its awareness as the number of threats and objects in space grows.” Moreover, GAO added that if commercial providers can meet DOD’s needs, buying the commercial data could also be beneficial because it could be shared with other agencies that might need to use it. 

The proliferation of satellites in space—which the watchdog predicted to be about 58,000 by 2030—and the congestion of space has created challenges for the Space Force, such as “gaps in the geographical distribution of global sensors that collect data and limited sensor capability for objects in deep space,” as noted in the report. But, the Space Force is looking to add other sensors and supplemental information for space situational awareness, including utilizing commercial data, which could help DOD expand its geographic sensor coverage and provide unclassified data that can be shared.

According to GAO, while the Space Force has worked on utilizing commercial data, it has not completely evaluated the range of data available to help meet its needs. Furthermore, while Space Force is using its Unified Data Library—a cloud-based archive to consolidate commercial, U.S. government and other country space situational awareness data—the agency is not fully utilizing the library in its daily space situational awareness operations because it is not integrated into Space Force’s operational systems.

As a result, the watchdog recommended that Space Force create a process to regularly identify and evaluate commercial space situational awareness capabilities and to develop a plan to decide how to use the Unified Data Library with the agency’s space situational awareness system.

DOD agreed with the recommendations.