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FAA reveals new system to track space launches

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket creates a vapor cone as it reaches supersonic speed during a launch of multiple satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on June 30. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket creates a vapor cone as it reaches supersonic speed during a launch of multiple satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on June 30. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., July 8 (UPI) -- Rocket launches and spacecraft landings will be tracked and monitored along with airplane traffic to enhance safety in a new program announced Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA hopes the new space tracking system, called Space Data Integrator, will increase efficiency in the space launch industry by minimizing the need to close airspace around rocket launches for extended periods, according to a press release.

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The program will automatically collect telemetry data coming from rockets and spacecraft launched by companies including SpaceX, Blue Origin and Firefly Aerospace, according to the FAA.

"This vastly improves the FAA's situational awareness of where the vehicle is as it travels to space or as it returns to the Earth," the FAA said.

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"This is a critical tool as the number of users of our already busy airspace increases," FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in the release. "With this capability, we will be able to safely reopen the airspace more quickly and reduce the number of aircraft and other airspace users affected by a launch or re-entry."

The agency said it tested the SDI system during SpaceX's Transporter-2 launch on June 30, although it didn't make that public until Thursday.

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That launch had been postponed by one day because a plane flew into the FAA's "keep out" zone. The delay prompted criticism from SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, who posted on Twitter that such regulations are "outdated."

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The FAA did not immediately say whether use of the SDI system had any impact on that delay, or if it would in the future.

The FAA regulates private spaceflight and certifies vehicles and companies for launches. The agency oversaw 45 launches and re-entries in 2020, while it expects about 70 this year.

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