Building Better Space Situational Awareness

About a decade ago, Air Force Space Command and the Pentagon tracked and cataloged about 8,000 pieces of debris and objects on orbit, while today that number has exploded to more than 19,000, Maj. Gen. Thomas Deppe, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, told a National Defense University Foundation breakfast audience May 1. The volume of objects in orbit, combined with scares, such as the recent collision between a decommissioned Russian military satellite and a US commercial communications satellite, has led to an urgent push for more space situational awareness, he said. To achieve this, “a great deal of work and collaboration” is required in the realms of defense and intelligence, at the national and international level, and with commercial operators, Deppe said. About a year ago the National Reconnaissance Office leadership and AFSPC established the space protection program to systematically review the survivability of US space assets and their supporting architecture, he noted. “This program is an initial step in establishing a national space enterprise,” Deppe said. Data fusion of current orbital assets is one of the big issues being worked at the joint space operations center at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., he noted.