Virgin Galactic and others become operational with FAA’s space-age air traffic tool

The tool has run into challenges, as documents obtained by FedScoop helped elucidate last year.
The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo space plane Unity returns to earth after the mothership separated at Spaceport America, near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico on July 11, 2021. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Three more companies have started using the Federal Aviation Administration’s Space Data Integrator, a tool designed to prepare air traffic controllers for the space age, the agency said on Wednesday. 

The FAA announced that Firefly, Virgin Galactic, and Sierra Space have become operational with the program. 

The move is notable because the platform is supposed to help alleviate the impact of rocket launches on commercial flight schedules — an ongoing problem, particularly in Florida and along the Space Coast where commercial launches occur on a frequent basis.

But SDI has run into some challenges, as FedScoop reported last year, and, as of December, only one company, SpaceX, seemed to be using the tool. 


Those three companies “became operational” with SDI in June, according to the agency, while SpaceX has been hooked up to the platform since 2021.

“SDI allows the FAA to track launch and reentry vehicles in near-real time during flight for safety and airspace efficiency,” said the FAA in a statement. These companies “will transmit vehicle telemetry data – such as position, altitude, and speed – to the FAA to increase situational awareness, help to reduce airspace closures, and contribute to safety for all airspace users.”

As the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General told FedScoop last year, the SDI tool is supposed to integrate data collected from space vehicles, in “near-real time” and eventually play a role in assisting air traffic controllers overseeing commercial flights traveling within the National Airspace System. 

Rebecca Heilweil

Written by Rebecca Heilweil

Rebecca Heilweil is an investigative reporter for FedScoop. She writes about the intersection of government, tech policy, and emerging technologies. Previously she was a reporter at Vox's tech site, Recode. She’s also written for Slate, Wired, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. You can reach her at Message her if you’d like to chat on Signal.

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