Surface to Space

Bringing an Innovative, Interdisciplinary Approach to an Increasingly Complex National Airspace

Pioneering together with other stakeholders, MITRE has been involved for decades in the development of the National Airspace System (NAS). The NAS is a complex operational environment with a wide range of users. From commercial, defense, and general aviation to space vehicles in many forms—everyone wants a piece of the sky and the realms beyond.

Moreover, the size of the commercial drone fleet is skyrocketing. By 2021, experts estimate, there could be as many as 1.6 million transiting the NAS.

It's no wonder that NASA projects daily flight demand for the various levels of airspace will grow from 55,000 in 2020 to more than 2.5 million by 2025. Besides the congestion, the rapid increase in space operations creates greater opportunity for miscoordination incidents between aircraft and space vehicles.

The United States government must meet this growing demand for access to space, while ensuring the safe and efficient operation of all types of aviation and aeronautics. It will take systems thinking and an end-to-end process that involves all key parties.

By building on our unique vantage point working across the whole of government and with industry, MITRE is collaborating with the space and aviation communities to develop a surface-to-space architecture. This functional map will ensure effective coordination at every mission stage: from pre-launch through atmospheric transit, to low earth orbit and payload deployment, to on-orbit maneuvering and space traffic management, and return to Earth.

MITRE’s Surface to Space (S2S) testbed is a collaborative tool designed to explore and meet these challenges. The testbed enables fast, flexible, and agile modeling, simulation, and data analysis so space operators can make data-driven decisions.

In partnership with the aerospace community, we offer a broad suite of expertise, data, models, and tools. The S2S testbed brings them together to enable more comprehensive experiments and assessments than individual organizations can do alone.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to all segments of aerospace operations cannot be adequately measured or forecast at this point. Establishing strategies and pathways back to normalcy are being developed across the aerospace spectrum. We reference pre-pandemic forecasts above.




  • +What is the definition of “Surface to Space”?

    Surface to Space (S2S) involves all operations in the air, from the surface of the earth up to the Kármán Line (100 kilometers or 62 miles above sea level).

    It includes traditional aviation, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), space operations, balloons, military flights, and others. S2S also includes the portion of these operations that takes place on the ground and sea.

    Additionally, S2S includes supporting elements within the National Airspace System (NAS)—the airspace structures, standards, procedures, automation, communication, navigation and surveillance that make today’s NAS work properly.

  • +What is Space Situational Awareness?

    Space Situational Awareness (SSA) is the ability to accurately characterize the space environment and identify all artificial objects in Earth’s orbit and activities in space.

    Currently, we lack complete knowledge of objects in orbit, and active satellites have little provisioning or requirement to report and update their locations. Detecting where they are and predicting where they will be at any given time requires collaboration. Civil SSA combines positional information on the trajectory of objects in orbit (using optical telescopes and radars primarily) with information on space weather. Military and national security SSA also include characterizing objects in space, including their capabilities and potential threats.

  • +How are decisions made to coordinate and prioritize the shared use of airspace between U.S. airlines and U.S. aerospace companies?

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a well-established system for prioritizing air operations. The FAA grants priority on a first-come-first-served basis whenever and wherever possible, followed by increasing levels of strategic and tactical actions commensurate with the situation's importance.

  • +What will it take to establish a global set of standards—including which data to use and share—that clearly lays out the right of way for safer and more efficient S2S operations?

    Establishing a global set of standards will ensure safer and more efficient operations for an S2S right of way. Getting there will require international interagency participation for governance structures and national responsibilities for all maritime, civil, private, commercial, and military vehicles.

  • +How is MITRE addressing the need for a S2S architecture?

    The S2S testbed that will allow the aerospace community to work together on problems of all sizes, in the near and far term, to balance the needs of aviation and space participants both domestically and internationally.

    Because MITRE serves as an independent convener that offers objective insight, the testbed will allow the community to craft solutions to the obstacles hindering advancements in space or aviation, while maintaining the efficiency of our nation’s aerospace environment.

  • +What questions might be addressed in MITRE’s Surface to Space (S2S) testbed?

    An example of questions that can be addressed in the S2S testbed include:

    • Airspace flexibility is highly desired wherever possible, but where and when is structured airspace needed?
    • What is the optimum airspace design for all altitude strata that, while it's changing dynamically, still provides maximum flexibility for all users?
    • If airspace design implementation evolves in stages from legacy structures to a new paradigm, what elements should be addressed first?
    • How will future operations, industry advancements, and expected volumes drive changes in controller and traffic flow management tools?
    • Since a large portion of all space launch and reentry activity takes place over water, what are the specific impacts to maritime traffic—from freighters to sport fishermen—when space launches or reentries are scheduled, activated, delayed, scrubbed or involve malfunctions?
    • What effective business models can be developed for all transportation segments during space activities?