USAF Improving Space Debris Tracking

Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.
Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.

USAF Boosts Space Situational Awareness
Aviation Week

U.S. military officials say they expect to have enough personnel and new computing power in place by October to warn U.S. and foreign satellite operators of possible collision hazards to their roughly 800 maneuverable platforms.

An initiative to boost so-called conjunction analysis—prediction that two orbiting objects could collide at high speeds—took center stage for military officials after a defunct Russian communications satellite crashed into an operational Iridium spacecraft on Feb. 10, creating a new debris cloud comprising about 700 objects (AW&ST Feb. 16, p. 20).

At the time, the Joint Space Operations Center (JSPOC) at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., was monitoring about 140 spacecraft for possible collisions. That number has been on the rise since, and officials plan to routinely conduct potential-collision analyses on 800 spacecraft by this fall. As of May, the center was scrutinizing 330 satellites.

However, this will require more workers to be assigned permanently to the mission; the center has been using personnel pulled from other assignments to fill in since the collision.

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