Startup Aims to Improve Air Traffic Safety With 210-Satellite Constellation

The first of the constellation's satellites will launch on an upcoming SpaceX mission.
Chris Young

A Canberra, Australia-based space firm Skykraft announced this week that it will launch a 661 lbs (300 kg) satellite on SpaceX's upcoming Transporter-5 mission.

The payload's launch will allow the company to test several early-phase Skykraft Air Traffic Management satellites, with a view to forming a global constellation of 210 satellites. The space-based Air Traffic Management constellation will "improve the safety and efficiency of global air travel," Skykraft explained in its statement.

"Skykraft is very pleased to ride with SpaceX, the most reliable and effective launch provider in the world, to deploy our Air Traffic Management constellation," said Mark Skidmore, Executive Chair of Skykraft."

On its website, Skykraft explains that its Air Traffic Management constellation of 210 spacecraft "will provide continuous coverage for aircraft at all altitudes and locations," which will "improve both the safety and efficiency of aircraft operations." 

The company said it is reaching out to potential scientific collaborators, as it has space in its payload to also send scientific instruments up for experimental and/or educational purposes.

Leveraging the latest satellite launch technologies

Skykraft specializes in space design concepts and small satellite constellations aimed at providing services on Earth. The company's main goal is to fully launch its space-based Air Traffic Management services by 2023.

Skykraft says that its business is largely possible thanks to recent advances in launch technologies that have made space more accessible and cost-effective for startups worldwide — on its website, the firm highlights "recent and continuing drops in [satellite] launch costs, primarily driven by SpaceX." These have allowed for a massive boost in satellite operations in recent times, including the launch of more than 1,500 of SpaceX's own global internet-providing Starlink satellites. 

During a keynote at Barcelona's reduced capacity Mobile World Congress in May, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that the Starlink service would go global in five weeks and he estimates it "would have 500,000 users within 12 months." 

With space set to become a $2.7-trillion industry, there are worries that space junk created by over 7,000 metric tons of retired satellites in low-Earth orbit will increasingly impede our access and view of space. There is a slight hint of irony, therefore, in the fact that Skykraft's new system may make air traffic control more efficient at the same time as eventually contributing to the increasing logistical nightmare of space junk.

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