Space vehicle operations debris threat mitigation study

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Authors: Hatton, K.
Johnson, D. R.
Schulz, K.
Randy Sollenberger, PhD.
Tanya Yuditsky, PhD.

Johnson, D. R., Sollenberger, R. L., Schulz, K., Yuditsky, T., & Hatton, K. (2016). Space vehicle operations debris threat mitigation study (DOT/FAA/TC-16/12). Atlantic City International Airport, NJ: Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to investigate three Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) Space Vehicle Operations (SVO) concepts in a human-in-the-loop simulation.

Background: The first concept was Space Transition Corridors (STCs) that are much smaller than current restricted areas for space vehicle operations. The second concept was the Just-in-Time Notification of active STCs based on high-certainty launch and reentry times. The third concept was the reactive separation of aircraft from Debris Hazard Volumes (DHVs) during off-nominal events. These SVO concepts were intended to allow for more efficient use of airspace during space vehicle operations and ensure safety in the National Airspace System (NAS). In addition to the concepts, the researchers developed a set of SVO tools for participants to use at their workstations. The tools included visual aids and graphics to identify the pre-active STC, active STC, and DHV as well as decision-support tools to help participants use the airspace effectively.

Method: Eight Certified Professional Controllers and two Traffic Management Coordinators from Air Route Traffic Control Centers nationwide participated in the study. The participants controlled traffic in five scenarios simulating space vehicle launch and reentry operations during nominal and off-nominal conditions. In three of the scenarios, the participants tested the SVO tools while controlling traffic.

Results: The results indicated that the participants could control several aircraft within the STC and effectively use the available airspace using the Just-in-Time Notification concept. When off-nominal events occurred, the participants used effective reactive separation by quickly contacting aircraft to avoid the DHV and clearing aircraft already in the DHV. Although the objective simulation data did not show much benefit using the SVO tools, the participants’ subjective ratings of tool effectiveness, helpfulness, and importance were very good. Conclusion: In conclusion, this study represents an important first step in preparing for increased space vehicle operations in the NAS.