Space

May 12, 2014

Air Force official testifies on dangers of ‘space junk’

Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

One congresswoman summed up the issue succinctly during a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing May 9: space junk is a growing problem.

Lt. Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, the commander of the 14th Air Force, Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Force Component Command for Space, testified at the hearing, along with technical and legal experts and officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Communications Commission.

Raymond noted his task force provides emergency warning of impending orbital collisions to all of the world’s spacefaring governments and companies, though it collaborates closely in space primarily with Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. JFCC Space, he explained, catalogs and tracks the trajectories of all known orbiting systems and debris.

“JFCC Space is the world’s premier provider of space situational awareness, data and products,” Raymond said. “Over the past few years, we have bolstered our commercial and international partnerships, we’ve implemented two-way sharing agreements and we’ve worked collaboratively to refine our sharing processes.”

The general noted the command also is on track to deliver a new command-and-control system, the Joint Space Operations Mission System and additional space situational-awareness sensors.

Each agency represented at the hearing, along with NASA and others, has a role to play in U.S. space operations. All of the witnesses stated that the United States must improve domestic space traffic management, and move quickly to foster international agreement on use of space.

Key orbits, mostly crowded with government-owned vehicles, are becoming obstacle courses, experts testified, as more countries launch more objects into space. But each of those objects could become a minefield if it collided with another at “hypervelocity” orbital speeds many times faster than a bullet, as one witness testified.

Such a disaster has happened spectacularly at least twice in the past decade.

In 2007, China destroyed one of its own old satellite systems in orbit during an anti-satellite weapon test, in what hearing attendees called the largest known creation of space debris in history.

China’s test blasted the nonworking mass into a “cloud” that diffused widely – in some depictions, it now resembles a seeding dandelion head – and is estimated by some at the hearing to include 150,000 objects centimeter-sized or larger.

The second orbital catastrophe occurred in 2009, when Russian satellite Kosmos-2251 and U.S. commercial satellite Iridium 33 collided, destroying both. Each vehicle disintegrated along its orbital path, scattering a roughly X-shaped debris field one witness said holds some 2,000 objects of at least a centimeter.

Each piece of space junk, as well as each functioning orbital object that eventually will become junk, has a projected duration in orbit that varies from months to centuries, witnesses noted — mostly depending on the object’s size, shape and orbital elevation.
Raymond said monitoring increasingly complex traffic and debris in the space domain is and will remain his command’s mission as part of Defense Department, both to protect national security and because no other agency is equipped to do so.

While JFCC Space constantly tracks orbital objects and adjusts recorded trajectories, Raymond acknowledged the command has no authority to act against a potentially destructive satellite or other object in space.

Regulations governing even U.S. domestic spaceflight are complicated. As witnesses explained, the FAA has authority over U.S. commercial and government space vehicles — but only on launch and re-entry, not during orbit. The DOD has responsibility to monitor, but cannot enforce, space movements.

But testimony suggested the need to bring order to managing close encounters in space is pressing.

Raymond noted one witness had testified that NASA’s International Space Station had changed position 16 times to avoid striking other objects in orbit.

“In fact, just last month we told them to move it twice,” he added.

Witnesses and committee members agreed as the hearing closed that effectively managing space transportation, clearing debris from orbit and protecting the planet from strikes by near-Earth objects are all challenges that will require national and international effort.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines March 2, 2015

News: Israel lobbies for more missile defense funds than Obama sought - For the second consecutive year, Israeli officials have asked the U.S. Congress to add more than $300 million to President Barack Obama’s budget request for their nation’s missile-defense programs.   Business: Inside one of the most intense, and unusual, Pentagon contracting wars - The much-anticipated...
 
 

News Briefs March 2, 2015

Italy resumes Navy exercise amid new tensions over Libya The Italian Navy is resuming exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, including near the coast of Libya, amid concerns about rapidly deteriorating security in the North African nation. The exercise began March 2 and includes anti-submarine, anti-aircraft and anti-ship training operations. The exercise was suspended for a...
 
 
LM-AEHF

Ingenuity drives Lockheed’s AEHF program to production milestone early

Lockheed Martin has successfully integrated the propulsion core and payload module for the fourth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite nearly five months ahead of schedule. Reaching this critical milestone early a...
 

 

First all-electric propulsion satellites send first on-orbit signals

Two Boeing 702SP (small platform) satellites, the first all-electric propulsion satellites to launch, have sent initial signals from space, marking the first step toward ABS, based in Bermuda, and Eutelsat, based in Paris, being able to provide enhanced communication services to their customers. Whatís more, the satellites were launched as a conjoined stack on a...
 
 

GA-ASI, Sener team to offer Predator B to Spain

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. and SENER, a leading Spanish engineering company, announced March 2 that they have signed a teaming agreement that promotes the use of the multi-mission Predator B® RPA to support Spain’s airborne surveillance and reconnaissance requirements.  GAASI is a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft systems, radars, and electro-optic and relate...
 
 
raytheon-satellite

Raytheon’s ‘Blue Marble’ imaging sensor delivered on schedule

Raytheon has delivered a second Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite instrument to support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Joint Polar Satellite System mission. The second VIIRS unit will fly ab...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>