The Air Force will improve its ability to track space junk later this year when airmen begin using a new suite of equipment to help them watch it all, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said last week.
Schwartz said “debris management” — monitoring all the old parts of rockets, satellites and other human-made stuff that’s in orbit along with today’s working space traffic — is a top priority for the Air Force. As he broke it down, the sheer number of objects involved make it clear why:
Currently utilizing a legacy system dating back to the mid-1980s, airmen of the Joint Space Operations Center, or ―JSPOC, can look to initial operational capability—we anticipate toward the end of this year—of the first increment of the new JSPOC Mission System, to enhance their processing of some 155 million sensor observations, and their tracking of approximately 22,000 manmade objects in orbit.
Last year, we completed the restructuring of the JSPOC Mission System acquisition program to better align initial capability deliveries with current operational needs. With the future automation of many of today’s manual tasks, and the incorporation of staggering amounts of sensor inputs, we will be afforded with a more efficient fusion of data from disparate sources, all toward a correlated situational awareness picture and comprehensive, relevant, and actionable information for a variety of space users—civil, commercial, and military.
With the new JSPOC Mission System, we will be better poised to make even more substantial contributions to broader space situational awareness efforts, involving partner governments, intergovernmental organizations, and global commercial entities, in detecting, warning of, and attributing space systems disturbances, whether stemming from natural or manmade causes.
The trouble, of course, is that no matter how well you track space junk, there always seems to be more of it. As you’ve read, the U.S. stands behind the idea of an international space “code of conduct,” but there doesn’t seem to be much urgency about putting it into place.