from reuters.com: The United States
plans to launch a pair of satellites to keep tabs on spacecraft from
other countries orbiting 22,300 miles above the planet, as well as to
track space debris, the head of Air Force Space Command said.
The previously classified
Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) will
supplement ground-based radars and optical telescopes in tracking
thousands of pieces of debris so orbital collisions can be avoided,
General William Shelton said at the Air Force Association meeting in
Orlando on Friday.
He called it a
“neighborhood watch program” that will provide a more detailed
perspective on space activities. He said the satellites, scheduled to be
launched this year, also will be used to ferret out potential threats
from other spacecraft.
The program “will bolster our ability to
discern when adversaries attempt to avoid detection and to discover
capabilities they may have which might be harmful to our critical assets
at these higher altitudes,” Shelton said in the speech, which also was
posted on the Air Force Association’s website.
two-satellite network, built by Orbital Sciences Corp will drift around
the orbital corridor housing much of the world’s communications
satellites and other spacecraft.
Air Force currently tracks about 23,000 pieces of orbiting debris
bigger than about 4 inches. These range from old rocket bodies to the
remains of an exploded Chinese satellite.
Air Force released a fact sheet emphasizing the program’s
debris-monitoring abilities. Brian Weeden, technical advisor with the
Washington-based Secure World Foundation, said the U.S. military already
has a satellite in a better position to do that job.
think the (Obama) Administration is being more honest when it says that
it declassified this program to try and deter attacks on U.S.
satellites,” in geostationary, or GEO, orbits located about 23,000 miles
above Earth, Weeden wrote in an email to Reuters.
U.S. has a lot of very specialized and important national security
satellites in the GEO region and it is very concerned about protecting
those satellites … so by telling other countries that it has some
ability to closely monitor objects near GEO and their behavior, the U.S.
hopes that will deter other countries from attacking its important
satellites,” Weeden said.
The new satellites also will give the U.S. military greater insight into what other countries have in orbit.
nothing wrong with that, but it is exactly the sort of thing the U.S.
is worried other countries will do to it,” Weeden added.
Costs and technical details of the program were not released.
satellites are scheduled for launch aboard an unmanned Delta 4 rocket,
built by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and
Boeing, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida during the last
quarter of 2014.
Shelton said two replacement satellites are targeted for launch in 2016.