Science and Technology News

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Space Weather, Satellites and the Sun


When service members go out on patrol, they keep a weather eye out for any dangers or unknown variables that might impact the mission.  When space surveillance specialists go out on the job, they’re keeping an eye on the skies, and in more ways than one.

Space surveillance is a critical part of USSPACECOM‘s mission and involves detecting, tracking, cataloging and identifying man-made objects orbiting Earth, i.e. active/inactive satellites, spent rocket bodies, or fragmentation debris.

Space surveillance can predict when and where a decaying space object will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and prevent a returning space object.  To radar, these can look like a missile, and even trigger a false alarm from missile-attack warning sensors of the U.S. and other countries.

Therefore, it’s important that we monitor the skies as much as we monitor anything that impacts us as a nation, and in this case, as a planet.

Space surveillance can also chart the present position of space objects and plot their anticipated orbital paths.  This means detecting new man-made objects in space, producing a running catalog of man-made space objects, determining which country owns a re-entering space object, and  informing NASA whether or not objects may interfere with the space shuttle and Russian Mir space station orbits.

The command accomplishes these tasks through its Space Surveillance Network (SSN) of U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force operated, ground-based radar’s and optical sensors at 25 sites worldwide.

One of the things that affects our satellites – and something we have to be cognizant of – is space weather, and specifically, solar weather.  Dr. Alex Young, Solar Physicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, explains how the sun is making scientific waves in our daily lives.

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