Science and Technology News

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Military Mission In Space

The Air Force is constantly monitoring the skies, but that isn’t limited to our atmosphere.  Keeping our military satellites up and running is tantamount to mission success, and working to improve that equipment and technology is a part of the ever-growing advancement of our military mission in space.

The Space Control Center in Cheyenne Mountain Air Station (NORAD) is the terminus for the SSN’s abundant and steady flow of information. The SCC houses large, powerful computers to process SSN information and accomplish the space surveillance and space control missions.

The NAVSPACECOM provides the site and personnel for the Alternate SCC (ASCC). The ASCC would take over all operations in the event the SCC could not function. This capability is exercised frequently.

The Orbital Space Debris
USSPACECOM tracks about 8,000 man-made space objects, baseball-size and larger, orbiting Earth. The space objects consist of active/inactive satellites, spent rocket bodies, or fragmentation. About seven percent are operational satellites, 15 percent are rocket bodies, and about 78 percent are fragmentation and inactive satellites.

Most debris (about 84 percent) is out approximately 800 kilometers – roughly twice the normal altitude of the space shuttle which orbits at about 300 kilometers.

Only a small amount of debris exists where the shuttle orbits.
The likelihood of a significant collision between a piece of debris (10 centimeters or larger) and the shuttle is extremely remote. The statistical estimate is one chance in 10,000 years, in the worst case. The probability is higher for objects smaller-than-baseball size which currently cannot be tracked with available sensors.

Although 8,000 space objects seems like a large number, in the 800 kilometer band there are normally only three or four items in an area roughly equivalent to the airspace over the continental U.S. up to an altitude of 30,000 feet. Therefore, the likelihood of collision between objects is very small.

Through the SSN, the command tracks and catalogs all space objects orbiting Earth which are 10 centimeters or larger. During shuttle missions, the center computes possible close approaches of other orbiting objects with the shuttle’s flight path. NASA is also advised of space objects which come within a safety box that measures 10 by 10 by 50 kilometers of the orbiter.

The Future of Space Observation
The shuttles might be collecting dust in museums these days, but the need to advance our satellite and observation technology is a crucial part of the military mission in space.  Different things affect different parts of our planet, our satellites, and even our technology.  Continuing the advancement of understanding and prevention of solar weather could make a big difference.

Dr. Alex Young, Solar Physicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, explains how the sun affects our planet and technology, and what the future looks like for space prediction.  Did you know that solar flares don’t actually “hit” the Earth?  Dr. Young explains:

The more we learn and understand the universe, the easier it will be to reach out and touch it someday.  The Air Force is keeping an eye on all the skies, including the extraterrestrial ones.  Today satellite and space weather obervation, tomorrow first contact.

Hey, a blogger can dream, right?

Information for this post provided by the U.S. Air Force Space Surveillance Network

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