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SpaceX Transporter-2 launch on June 30 at Cape Canaveral. Photo: SpaceX

With space launches occurring more frequently, the skies are getting crowded, requiring new technology that the Federal Aviation Administration says will minimize potential conflicts.

Why it matters: Each time a satellite — or billionaire — is launched into space, the FAA has to close airspace to commercial airlines. That requires pilots to reroute and take less-efficient paths, often resulting in delays for airline passengers.

  • And since many rockets are now reusable, pilots have to yield for spacecraft coming back to Earth too.

What's happening: The FAA is rolling out a system that allows it to track a space launch or reentry vehicle in near-real time as it travels through the National Airspace System.

  • The Space Data Integrator (SDI) prototype automatically delivers data about a rocket's position, altitude and speed to the FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command Center.
  • Knowing precisely where a rocket is — including whether it deviates from its expected flight path — allows air traffic controllers to better manage federal airspace.
  • The system can also display and share "aircraft hazard areas" that may contain falling debris from a launch or reentry vehicle.
  • Four commercial space companies — SpaceX, Blue Origin, Firefly and the Alaska Aerospace Corporation — have agreed to share data with the FAA.

Driving the news: The technology was first used June 30 with the SpaceX Transporter-2 launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

  • FAA officials say the initial results are promising, showing they can shorten airspace closures from an average of about four hours to two hours.

What they're saying: “This is a critical tool as the number of users of our already busy airspace increases,” said FAA administrator Steve Dickson.

  • “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 reentry.”

The bottom line: The cadence of space launches has been rapidly increasing, from once a year in 2011 to about once a month in 2016, and now roughly once a week.

  • In 2020, the FAA safely managed 45 space launches and reentries into the National Airspace System, the most in the agency’s history. For 2021, that number could exceed 70.

Go deeper

Oct 25, 2021 - Science

Blue Origin announces plan to develop commercial space station

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin on Monday unveiled plans to develop a commercial space station called "Orbital Reef."

Why it matters: The private space station, which will be nearly as large as the International Space Station, would be the first of its kind and comes amid growing interest in the private space industry.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.