The previously classified Geosynchronous Space Situational
Awareness Program (GSSAP) will supplement ground-based radars and
optical telescopes in tracking thousands of pieces of debris so
orbital collisions can be avoided, General William Shelton said at
the Air Force Association meeting in Orlando on Friday.
He called it a "neighborhood watch program" that will provide a more
detailed perspective on space activities. He said the satellites,
scheduled to be launched this year, also will be used to ferret out
potential threats from other spacecraft.
The program "will bolster our ability to discern when adversaries
attempt to avoid detection and to discover capabilities they may
have which might be harmful to our critical assets at these higher
altitudes," Shelton said in the speech, which also was posted on the
Air Force Association's website.
The two-satellite network, built by Orbital Sciences Corp will drift
around the orbital corridor housing much of the world's
communications satellites and other spacecraft.
The Air Force currently tracks about 23,000 pieces of orbiting
debris bigger than about 4 inches. These range from old rocket
bodies to the remains of an exploded Chinese satellite.
The Air Force released a fact sheet emphasizing the program's
debris-monitoring abilities. Brian Weeden, technical advisor with
the Washington-based Secure World Foundation, said the U.S. military
already has a satellite in a better position to do that job.
"I think the (Obama) Administration is being more honest when it
says that it declassified this program to try and deter attacks on
U.S. satellites," in geostationary, or GEO, orbits located about
23,000 miles above Earth, Weeden wrote in an email to Reuters.
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"The U.S. has a lot of very specialized and important national
security satellites in the GEO region and it is very concerned about
protecting those satellites ... so by telling other countries that
it has some ability to closely monitor objects near GEO and their
behavior, the U.S. hopes that will deter other countries from
attacking its important satellites," Weeden said.
The new satellites also will give the U.S. military greater insight
into what other countries have in orbit.
"There's nothing wrong with that, but it is exactly the sort of
thing the U.S. is worried other countries will do to it," Weeden
Costs and technical details of the program were not released.
The satellites are scheduled for launch aboard an unmanned Delta 4
rocket, built by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed
Martin and Boeing, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida
during the last quarter of 2014.
Shelton said two replacement satellites are targeted for launch in
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; editing by David Gregorio)
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