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In a campaign to raise awareness of risks posed by space debris and an increasingly crowded space environment, AIA in June conducted a congressional briefing on “Space Debris and Collisions — Keeping Our Space Assets Safe.”
The event attracted a large number of Congressional staffers interested in learning more about the ever-crowded and contested space environment.
The U.S. Air Force Space Command tracks more than 18,000 pieces of debris traveling in low Earth orbit at warp speeds in excess of 17,000 miles per hour (27,200 kilometers per hour). And there are estimates of more than 600,000 smaller pieces or particles measuring 1 centimeter or larger that are too small to be seen by today’s sensors but large enough to jeopardize spacewalking astronauts, spacecraft and orbiting telescopes.
Earlier this year, crew aboard the docked Space Shuttle Discovery and the international space station hastened to undertake emergency maneuvers to avoid a small piece of debris that put their lives and craft in danger. More recently, NASA’s safety chief expressed concern that space junk was one of the chief perils for the Space Shuttle Atlantis and its crew during their mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
Introductory remarks were delivered by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, and AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey.
In a video presentation, Paul L. Graziani, president and CEO of AIA member company Analytical Graphics, Inc., illustrated threats associated with space debris, including the January 2007 anti-satellite test conducted by China that left thousands of pieces of dangerous debris in orbit for decades to come.
He explained how destruction of a defunct U.S. intelligence satellite, on the other hand, was done in a way that minimized debris and allowed remaining fragments to de-orbit within a relatively short period of time.
Graziani recommended continued improvement of ground- and space-based sensors to strengthen space situational awareness and called for stronger partnerships among government, industry and other nations on matters of space policy.
Andrew Palowitch, director of the joint Air Force Space Command and National Reconnaissance Office Space Protection Program, discussed that program’s role with space debris and protection.
The Space Protection Program was created in 2008 to offer recommendations to U.S. decisionmakers on how best to protect critical space systems. In addition to describing problems associated with orbital debris, Palowitch discussed efforts to use new technologies to clean up the space environment.
AIA Source: mike.conschafter[at]aia-aerospace.org