Efforts to track space junk continue to expand

DOD’s tracking website will release new positional information, while private companies partner up to build a new ground site.

The Defense Department is releasing additional information on the website it uses to track orbiting objects, in order to let satellite operators to better protect their assets.

DOD is posting new, high-quality positional information on space debris of unknown origins—unidentified objects usually resulting from a launch or a collision—on the program’s Space-Track.org website, according to a DOD release. Approved users are allowed to use the website to gain access to government space situational awareness information.

“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,” Air Force Maj. Gen. David D. Thompson of the U.S. Strategic Command said in the release.

Preventing space collisions remains a top priority for the Air Force – future collisions could disrupt satellite services and result in even more space debris, increasing the danger to space assets. Overall, the military is reliant on satellites systems for communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“By sharing previously unavailable information on space objects, we’re helping nations that operate in space to do so safely and effectively,” said Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney, Stratcom commander. “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.”

Meanwhile, private companies are also continuing to increase capabilities for space surveillance for both government and commercial customers.

Lockheed Martin and Electro Optic systems will partner to develop a new ground-based space object tracking site in Western Australia, according to a company release.  

The site will focus on specific objects to determine their speed, direction and composition, using a combination of laser and optical systems. The systems are expected to complement radar-based systems that make up DOD’s Space Surveillance Network, which comprises ground-based radars and optical sensors at 25 sites around the world.

The announcement for the site comes after Lockheed Martin was awarded $914.7 million contract to build the Air Force’s Space Fence, which will use S-Band radars to track objects.

“Ground-based space situational awareness is a growing priority for government and commercial organizations around the world that need to protect their investments in space,” said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “Through this agreement with Electro Optic Systems, we’ll offer customers a clearer picture of the objects that could endanger their satellites, and do so with great precision and cost-effectiveness.”

The Air Force, on the other hand, has been increasing space-based surveillance assets. United Launch Alliance last month launched two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program satellites, both of them designed to track and characterize manmade orbiting objects. Space-based surveillance systems, while more expensive than ground-based systems, are not affected by atmospheric changes or unfavorable weather.