The junkyard space satellite
Posted by John Keller
The U.S. Air Force is getting ready to launch a surveillance satellite that, much like a junkyard dog, will keep watch over the castoff debris orbiting the Earth from space missions past.
If all goes according to plan, the Air Force will launch the Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite Thursday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., that will keep watch on everything in orbit, from the most sophisticated and important satellites to the countless pieces of space junk that menace manned and unmanned space missions alike.
It's like air traffic control surveillance for all the stuff in orbit. While it's easy to giggle about a high-tech orbiting junkyard dog, space junk is no laughing matter. Chunks of old spacecraft such as fuel tanks and pieces of dead satellites often pose threats to the International Space Station, the space shuttle, and vital communications, navigation, and surveillance satellites.
For the first time, the SBSS satellite will be a full-time monitor of where satellites and space junk are, and where these objects are headed.
This spacecraft also could be the first piece of an important space surveillance network that much like the future NextGen air traffic management system for commercial aircraft, could make it safe to increase the density of spacecraft orbiting the Earth and pave the way to make communications, navigation, and cable television programming even better than it is today.
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