US military to boost satellite monitoring programme to avoid space smash-up

April 1st, 2009 - 4:15 pm ICT by ANI  

London, April 1 (ANI): The US military is planning to boost the number of satellites it routinely monitors for the risk of a smash-up with orbiting debris, like the recent collision between a US communications satellite and a defunct Russian probe.

The US Air Force has catalogued more than 19,000 pieces of space debris larger than 10 centimetres across, General Robert Kehler, Commander of Air Force Space Command, told New Scientist.

But, despite the extensive catalogue, the military does not have the ability to calculate the risk this space junk poses to every operational satellite.

“We keep that catalogue up to date, but we do not watch everything for collision purposes all the time,” Kehler said.

“We’re limited by computing and we’re limited by analytical wherewithal, both of which we are now going to increase in the near-term so that we can expand the population of satellites that we can perform routine collision avoidance assessments on,” he added.

The exact number of satellites the Air Force will aim to routinely screen for the risk of collision is unclear.

“We want to stay away from numbers and specifics right now,” Andy Roake, a spokesperson for Air Force Space Command, told New Scientist.

But, another official has put the target at 800 maneuverable satellites by October 1.

There are no details yet on how the effort would be funded or how much it might cost, according to an Air Force official.

That would put the Air Force close to a complete survey of the risk to space probes.

Some 900 operational satellites currently orbit the Earth, according to data compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“It’s absolutely a step in the right direction,” said Brian Weeden, a technical consultant for the Secure World Foundation and a former orbital analyst at the US Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center.

“Boosting the number of satellites that are routinely watched may reduce the chance of collisions, but only if satellite operators are notified and given the information they need to determine whether to move the satellite,” he added. (ANI)

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