: 4 min

WeTrack: a one-of-a-kind space tracking solution

Find out about the WeTrack space tracking solution offered by Safran Data Systems, a one-of-a-kind technology capable of managing objects circulating in orbit, contributing to the peaceful and orderly use of space. Alexandre Thily, Senior VP Sales and Marketing of Safran Data Systems, answers our questions about these tracking solutions.

How does the WeTrackTM technology offered by Safran Data Systems work?

WeTrackTM is a space tracking service. These technologies are used to determine the position of satellites in a completely passive way. How? What distinguishes and sets our technology apart is that it does not observe the reflection of light off satellites, as telescopes do, but instead analyses the signals emitted by the satellites. For that, we use the radio frequency (RF) sensors that we deployed in France, Asia (Thailand) and the United States. These three sensor bases provide full coverage, and mathematic calculations are employed to determine the exact position of the object. The measurement is extremely precise: from the point in time we mark an object, we have the certified RF signature and can no longer lose it. We are thus able to see virtually all geostationary satellites*. All of these technologies, thus far unique across the world, are patented.

* Geostationary satellites: commercial, military or government satellites in geostationary orbit, rotating at the same speed as Earth, meaning they remain at the same point on the globe and give the impression of not moving.

 

Recently, you had the opportunity to demonstrate the potential of this technology during the AsterX simulation. Can you tell us about this experience?

AsterX is a simulation where we placed ourselves in a fictitious but probable scenario, with different governments involved in complex alliances generating impacts on the space environment. This was the first simulation of such ambitious scope carried out in France and Europe. With the participation of all our partners, we were able to recreate an authentic, detailed fictitious space environment. When changing inputs, we had to see how we would be able to detect these changes and promptly make appropriate decisions. Thanks to this simulation, we were able to see that the RF sensor gave us an even faster response time and a great deal of flexibility.  We have proved that Safran Data Stems is a trustworthy partner in the completion of space tracking tasks. The Head of WeTrackTM also had the honor of presenting our technology to the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron. This provided an opportunity to highlight what makes our service unique, given how seamlessly it works with other technologies (radar, telescopes, etc.), with our cooperation with all players, institutions and commercial service providers forming the cornerstone of the very future of space.

 

What lessons can be learned from these exercises?

We regularly participate in other exercises with nations allied to France and other providers of complementary services to the WeTrackTM service. Most of these other exercises intervene either on the real spatial situation, or in a more theoretical way. Safran Data Systems is now used to the exercise of cooperating between several actors to determine a spatial situation and help in decision-making.

AsterX was the first exercise we took part in based on simulated measurement data. By simulating data, we can check that our systems continue meeting the expectations of our clients, even in a crisis situation.

One of the goals of the exercise was also to prove the operational concepts involved in the use of sensors. In the circumstances, the keen focus we place on the WeTrackTM control and display interface takes center stage. Although the display of spatial positioning is not our core business, the graphic component of our service attracted a lot of interest and proved to be one of the key sources of our added value.

Thanks to the feedback from clients and operational staff, these exercises provide us with invaluable inspiration for future developments in our product and service range. 

What are the strategic stakes and challenges of the space tracking industry? What is the impact for Safran Data Systems?

The considerable decline in barriers to entry in the industry over the last ten years has made space a new El Dorado. This as-yet little regulated environment represents a unique opportunity for players across the board, not only governments but also private-sector operators looking to take their slice of the pie, placing a considerable burden on governments to guard against potential threats in space. Consequently, there are high expectations when it comes to developing adequate tracking technologies. In addition to geopolitical conflicts, the increasingly dense use of space needs to be watched very closely. A growing number of objects are now in orbit, and it is critical to ensure they do not collide. RF sensors, used to consolidate our knowledge of space, will thus contribute to the peaceful and cooperative management of space. On the whole, the space industry is still a relatively resilient market. We have been lucky in that the health crisis has not undermined long-term programs in the space sector. The outlook is rather good. Space traffic is gaining in intensity, paving the way for a very bright future. Expectations are running high to see the various tools needed to regulate this densification of space established, and Safran Data Systems will be there every step of the way.

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