The Need for a Global Space Traffic Control Service: An Opportunity for U.S. Leadership - Avoiding Orbital Satellite Collisions, Space Debris, Tracking Systems, Space Situational Awareness (SSA)
Professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction, this unique study examines the need for a global space-traffic-control service must be addressed by the space-faring nations of the world, especially the United States. Losing a satellite to an accidental on-orbit collision is no longer hypothetical, but real and increasingly likely. More
Professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction, this unique study examines the need for a global space-traffic-control service must be addressed by the space-faring nations of the world, especially the United States. Losing a satellite to an accidental on-orbit collision is no longer hypothetical, but real and increasingly likely.
The fiscal and national security ramifications are too significant to ignore. The replacement cost of a satellite, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars, is the most obvious impact. But, this may be the most trivial consideration. The greatest concern is the potential catastrophic loss of vital communications, navigation, weather, and other services we depend on for daily global commerce and defense. This paper explains the problem, examines some possible paths to address the problem, and recommends actions.
In February 2009, a spectacular collision grabbed headlines around the world. In low-earth orbit (LEO) 400 miles above Siberia, an American commercial communications satellite, Iridium 33, collided with the defunct Russian satellite, Cosmos 2251. The probability of this first known satellite-to-satellite collision was estimated to be one in 100,000. With a closing velocity of 22,000 miles per hour, the satellites were instantly pulverized into debris clouds creating more than 870 objects observed by the US Air Force's (USAF) Space Surveillance Network (SSN).
The specter of collisions is not new, despite the theory of "big sky." Although Iridium-Cosmos is the first known collision between two satellites, this was the fourth documented accidental collision in space (intentional destruction will be described later). In 1991, coincidently, another defunct Russian satellite, Cosmos 1934, collided with a fragment from another Cosmos launch. Five years later, the French reconnaissance satellite CERISE was damaged by a colliding with a fragment from an Arianne rocket body, another French object. In this collision, the fragment struck CERISE with a closing velocity of 32,400 miles per hour cleaving its 20-foot boom in half. Experts estimate the probability of this collision was one in a million - so much for the big sky theory. Luckily, the satellite remained operating. In 2005, the third confirmed collision occurred. The final stage of a US Thor Burner 2A rocket, in orbit more than 31 years, struck a fragment from the upper stage of a Chinese Long March 4 rocket.
Beyond collisions, other events also present dangers to satellite traffic. Lieutenant General Larry D. James, commander of the Joint Functional Component for Space, reported the Chinese anti-satellite test which destroyed Fengyun-1C in January 2007 was the worst fragmentation event in the history of spaceflight. This event added "2,400 pieces of potentially destructive debris," increasing the number of objects tracked by USAF Space Command by over 10%. A month later, a Russian upper stage from a Proton rocket, loaded with fuel leftover from a failed boost, exploded and created another 1,100 pieces of debris. As of April 2009, the Air Force was tracking approximately 19,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters. If the Air Force could track objects down to one centimeter, it estimates the amount of debris would be 300,000.
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