Why space is the new frontier for ATM

1 June 2017

Image credit: Adobe Stock/Rawf8

Space is becoming busier than ever, with a growing number of governments and commercial companies developing innovative ways to exploit and to access it. These developments are bringing a myriad challenges and opportunities for the ATM industry as gatekeepers of the skies and now increasingly of access to orbit.

There are already nearly 1,400 operating satellites in operation, and organisations like SpaceX and OneWeb are planning to build 'mega constellations' to provide broadband services globally. At lower altitudes, new airspace users like Project Loon's balloons and Facebook's solar-powered plane are also seeking to deliver Internet services worldwide.

In addition, we are seeing the advent of space tourism, with Virgin Galactic's new spaceship undergoing tests; Blue Origin planning to launch its first human passenger paid flight in 2018; and SpaceX planning to take two space tourists on a trip round the moon in 2018.

As a result, the space sector is growing between five per cent and eight per cent annually, with over 80 launches a year. The increased use of space-based technologies and the falling cost of launches mean that there will be more and more high altitude and space vehicles travelling through airspace.

We therefore need to consider what this growth means for the air traffic management industry; how can we minimise disruption to civil air traffic, while welcoming a new age of commercial space operations.

Well, we need clear rules, developed and agreed by all stakeholders, to accommodate the requirements of users in traditional airspace, as well as space-bound vehicles travelling through that airspace. This will involve close cooperation between organisations responsible for space traffic management (STM), airspace/space users and ATM; and the global regulators, including ICAO and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

We also need to consider together how to integrate commercial space operations into the ATM system, minimising the impact of space vehicles on air traffic, while maintaining a high level of safety. This will require the modification of ATM software and training of ATCOs and ANSPs in the characteristics of space vehicles.

All this will not happen overnight but the race to space is building rapidly. It is therefore important we encourage full debate about these issues and the associated opportunities – and the CANSO Global ATM Summit 2017 on 13 June in Copenhagen will do just that.

We have an impressive line-up of speakers from the commercial companies at the cutting edge of accessing space, organisations managing space travel, and ANSPs, and we look forward to listening, learning and sharing our experiences. After all, the future of the ATM industry is heading ever onwards and upwards, and each of our Members is critical to this journey.

To register for the CANSO Global ATM Summit or find out more, please visit the event page. We look forward to seeing you there.


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About the author

Jeff Poole, CANSO Director General

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