Posts Tagged ‘Space Situational Awareness’

In their “priceless” advertising campaign, MasterCard offers that playing TPC Sawgrass, going to a baseball game, or buying your son an electric guitar are cherished things.  In fact, these things are alleged to be so cherished as to be priceless even though they can, if fact, be charged to your MasterCard.

With that laid down as background in one of your cerebral folds, now segue with me to the topic of outer space and the potential of earth-orbiting objects to collide with one another.  It turns out that USSTRATCOM’s Joint Space Operations Center has sent over 400 collision warnings to Russia and China, along with another 250-plus to other USG and commercial entities.

The cost to Russia and China?  Approaching or at zero.  To the commercial entities?  Approaching zero. 

So, while there is no free lunch, if it’s free to me, I’ll take it.

The number of maneuvers performed?  More than 100.

Value of collisions avoided?  Unstated but likely to be significant.

Now ponder this SAT-like question:

Security free-riding is to NATO as _________ is to space situational awareness:

a) The Marshall Plan

b) Global Zero

c) The World

d) Your mother

(Note: correct answer is “c.”)

Space situational awareness: the mission that ate the USAF space budget?  As few things are truly priceless, the challenge is to balance cost and risk instead of perpetuating an existent moral hazard.

Solutions might include space-licensing, insurance, escrow tools, or the likes.  As these sorts of agreements are long-lead items which would affect legacy (and future) space systems, it isn’t too early to start thinking about how to get off the current “U.S. pays” path.


Space Traffic Control: The Next Free Global Utility?

By Mark Stout

Note: this article originally appeared in Air University’s The Wright Stuff.

Depending how you look at it, the United States has been the world’s policeman somewhere between two (the dissolution of the Soviet Union) and seven (our entrance into World War II) decades.  Today, we are also humanity’s foremost space watcher and may even be on our way to serving as the world’s space traffic cop.  So… is this a good thing?


Bloomberg reports that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and French Defense Minister Alain Juppe are to sign a cooperative agreement to try and reduce the risk of space accidents and collisions.  They are scheduled to sign today, Tuesday 8 February 2011.


If we ever get to see or read the agreement, it will be interesting to determine how equitable it is.  That is, are the costs/services each nation provides commensurate with the risk reduction/benefits each nation receives?  Or will the agreement be more like NATO?  (expect the latter)


It would be reasonable to think the agreement will be very similar to one the U.S. made with Australia last fall.  However, Australia’s geography provides one h-u-g-e benefit: they can have a radar site there that provides southern hemisphere space coverage and can look right at China for their southerly space launches (and sideways for Indian launches as well).

Consider “Radiate day and night, China now can’t conceal” in lieu of “I’ve been driving all night my hands are wet on the wheel.”  Just a thought.


space fenceCobbled together from Information Week, Military Aerospace, and Philadelphia Business Journal who are all reporting on an Air Force contract award for the new Space Fence.


Raytheon and Lockheed Martin were awarded contracts to provide designs for a ground-based space radar system called the space fence which will be able to better detect orbiting objects (to include space debris) passing over the United States.  All the nine of the transmit and receive sites are located along the 33rd parallel in the continental United States.

The contract will be for 18 months. When it’s completed, the Air Force will be expected to award a separate $3.5 billion contract to build the Space Fence.  So far, $20 million of a potential $107 million has been obligated.

The new space fence project will be a major upgrade to the existing VHF-based Space Fence which was called the Navy Fence until it was handed off to the Air Force in 2004. As the new space fence will operate in the s-band, it will be able to detect smaller objects and provide more precise positioning information.

The new space fence will have three ground-based S-band transmitter sites designed to automatically detect, track, and measure space objects. Six receiver sites will monitor the reflected radar returns. Object in the new fence’s field-of-view will include the low and medium earth orbits.

It is expected to be IOC in 2014 and fully operational in 2015.


From Perth Now:

WESTERN Australia will become a key partner in the international battle for space supremacy, with the state to host a new multimillion-dollar US defence base to spy on foreign satellites and keep watch on dangerous space junk.

To spy on foreign satellites, eh?

The facility will play a major role in an emerging Cold War in space.

An emerging Cold War in space, eh?  And where might it be located?  Perhaps the Harold E Holt Naval Communications Station at Exmouth.

It will have major technology and intelligence spin-offs, putting Australia at the forefront of an emerging battle between nations staking claim for territory in space occupied by $600 billion of civil and military hardware.

When will we know?

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is poised to announce the base when he visits Australia next week with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The WA project was to have been announced by US President Barack Obama during his aborted trip to Australia in June.

Why is space important?  Power projection for the U.S.  And for the Australians?

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said last year’s Defence White Paper stated Australia’s “strategic capability advantage” depended on its ability to access space and protect the nation from “foreign exploitation by space-based capabilities”.

“The US Space Surveillance Network is the principal system Australia and other nations rely on to detect, track and identify objects in space,” Mr Smith said.

Sometimes geography is important for space surveillance.  Like the geographical location Western Australia offers.

SBSS's Business End Is On the Right

With NROL-41 in space, the next mission to fly will the Space Based Space Surveillance satellite.

The launch is scheduled for 25 September from Vandenberg’s SLC-8 riding on a Minotaur IV into a 390 mile orbit.

The reason for the 2270 pound SBSS’s existence—to survey space—is the gimbaled camera at the end of the satellite.

Space situational awareness begins with space surveillance.