The United States Air Force has received an advanced system designed to track space debris floating in orbit above Earth’s atmosphere.
There is approximately half-a-million pieces of space debris, according to data released by NASA. In an effort to identify where this debris is located exactly, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has teamed up with the U.S. Air Force to develop a new telescope. So, what’s the purpose of this telescope and why is it needed? Well, with such a vast amount of trash floating in orbit, there’s a growing chance of a collision with satellites. To prevent problems such as this, DARPA and the Air Force are looking to track space debris using this advanced telescope system.
Of course, there are already plenty of telescope systems available, so some people may ask why the Air Force isn’t using them instead. According to one of the project’s researchers, existing telescopes don’t provide a clear picture of all objects and debris in orbit around Earth. They typically have a narrow field of view, making them unreliable when used to track faint and otherwise small orbits that are just 22,000 some miles above Earth.
The new space-debris tracking telescope was originally designed back in 2011. Just last year, however, DARPA transferred ownership of the telescope to the U.S. Air Force, with plans to move it to Australia where it will be operated by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network.
When speaking about the telescope, DARPA’s Brad Tousely said it joins a prestigious list that goes back decades into the space program.
“With its amazing capabilities, SST joins a prestigious list stretching back decades of game-changing space situational awareness programs on which DARPA and [Air Force Space Command] have collaborated.” said Tousley, the director of DARPA’s tactical technology office.
When you think of potential threats to satellites and astronauts, space debris probably doesn’t come to mind. After all, how many incidents of space debris damaging a satellite have your heard about? Just because incidents are few and far between doesn’t mean it’s not threat. DARPA and the U.S. Air Force are looking to prevent future incidents of space debris damaging satellites and/or injuring astronauts with its new tracking telescope.
Furthermore, however, the new telescope is intended to track asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth. Researchers believe that more than 10 million asteroids will be tracked this year. In comparison, 7.2 million were tracked in 2015 and only 2.2 million in 2014.