Officials Expand Space
By Amaani Lyle, DoD News,
Defense Media Activity.
– August 25, 2014
– Defense Department officials announced additions to its space
situational awareness program's Space-Track.org website.
In a recent telephone interview with DoD News, Air Force Maj.
Gen. David D. Thompson, U.S. Strategic Command's director of plans and policy at
Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, said the release of new high-quality positional
information on space debris of an unknown origin will help owner-operators
better protect their satellites from these objects and ultimately create less
"We run a predictive program that shows where the objects
are, where they will be in the future, and the potential for these objects to
run into each other," Thompson said.
Thompson explained that most of the debris that is considered
"objects of unknown origin" resulted from launches or space collisions, but has
not been definitively identified by source.
Thousands of space objects
The Joint Functional Component Command for Space at
Vandenberg Air Force Base in California currently tracks more than 17,000
objects in space on a continuous basis, Thompson said. Among those objects, he
said, about 1,100 are active satellites currently conducting operations.
The average person has a lot more invested in space than he
or she may realize, Thompson said. "We have more than 30 GPS satellites on orbit
today providing global navigation and positioning for the world," the general
With modern smart phones offering so many diverse functions,
the loss of connectivity and functionality could cripple a fair amount of
consumers in the United States and abroad. "Networks that run those and the
timing required to keep them all in sync is enabled through the global
positioning system that every U.S. citizen and just about every advanced global
citizen depends on," Thompson said.
Yet it is the other approximately 16,000 objects -- the ones
not active and/or of unknown origin in space -- that JFCC Space and Stratcom are
most concerned with.
Objects present collision threat
Many objects, ranging from at least the size of the human
fist to as large as the international space station, which is slightly larger
than a full-sized soccer field, continue to pose a collision threat in space,
Thompson said. "There is also a high volume of debris smaller than the average
fist that [JFCC Space] cannot track that are also on orbit today," he said.
With old satellites and debris orbiting at thousands of miles
per hour, the probability of a collision poses a threat to the continuing
mission of operational satellites.
Exchange of space information
While some active satellites are not maneuverable, JFCC Space
officials said they try to inform the owners of all satellites that they may
want to take action to reduce the likelihood of collision. "Exchanging
information allows spacefaring organizations to take action to reduce the risk
of a collision that could generate hundreds of thousands of pieces of additional
space debris," said Lt. Gen. John W. Raymond, JFCC Space commander. "JFCC Space
shares information globally because it is in everyone's best interest to ensure
the safety of the space domain."
An example of space cluttering occurred in 2007, Thompson
said, when the Chinese conducted an anti-satellite weapons test and almost
immediately created 1,500 new objects that pose a risk to satellites in orbit.
Stratcom tracks space objects
And after the collision of an inoperable spacecraft with a
commercial communications satellite in 2009, Stratcom took on the role for the
world in keeping track of such objects and providing that warning to others to
prevent the situation from worsening, Thompson said. "We have the assigned
responsibility for planning and conducting space operations," said Navy Adm.
Cecil D. Haney, Stratcom's commander.
"By sharing previously unavailable information on space
objects, we're helping nations that operate in space to do so safely and
effectively," Haney added. "It is one way we fulfill our assigned space mission
for the U.S. and its allies, while also protecting capabilities important to
citizens around the world."
Yet it is a mission that extends beyond the average civilian.
Warfighters depend on satellites
Joint warfighters depend on advanced warning such as missile
launch or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance from satellite systems,
"It's understanding what's there [in space], what [the object]
is doing, and how it poses a threat to our military mission, to our ability to
support joint forces and contribute to the global good," the general said. "While
space is a very big place, there are a lot of things up there."
As such, for several years, JFCC Space has been responsible
for monitoring, coordinating and synchronizing space operations for the
Department of Defense.
"We are the single point of contact for U.S. military space
operational matters," Raymond said. "We are not, however, the only ones who
operate in that environment."
Many organizations in space
Many public, private, commercial and other governmental
organizations conduct space operations. "Space is not owned by anyone, it is
used by all and we strongly support responsible and safe use of space and
transparency of operations that go on in space," Thompson said.
Reversing congestion and pollution in space, he said, is a
"We are talking decades or centuries before the environment
will clean itself naturally so we have to share and act responsibly with this
precious resource because it's important to all of us," Thompson said.
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Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney
Air Force Lt. Gen. John W. Raymond
Air Force Maj. Gen. David D. Thompson
Joint Functional Component Command for Space
U.S. Strategic Command
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