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Amateur astronomers needed to track space trash

Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) fell in 1991 and  impacted in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean
Photo by NASA via Getty Images

There is 1,200 active satellites in space providing services for phones, television, weather, the internet and navigational assistance, but did you know that there is more than 500,000 pieces of hazardous space debris that have the potential of colliding into those satellites with the same amount of energy as a hand grenade?

The U.S. military does and is reaching out to amateur astronomers to help keep track of it all.

The U.S. Space Surveillance Network hopes that with this extra help they can regularly examine the trajectories of orbital debris to identify possible close encounters, thus allowing the International Space Station (ISS) to maneuver away from the object if there is an impending collision.

Up till now, the Space Surveillance Network has been tracking all of it themselves, but there are only capable of tracking 30,000 space objects. Their hopes are that with the help from amateur astronomer they will get the help they need to keep an eye on debris that will orbit the earth for the next several years to a century depending on what altitude it is orbiting at.

According to SpaceView, "Prior to 2007, the principal source of debris was from explosions of old launch vehicle upper stages left in orbit with stored energy sources, e.g., residual propellants and high pressure fluids. The intentional destruction of the Fengyun-1C weather satellite by China in 2007 and the accidental collision of American and Russian communications satellites in 2009, greatly increased the number of large debris in orbit and now represent one-third of all cataloged orbital debris."

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will begin to enrolling members into the SpaceView Program in 2013.

"There is an untold amount of potential in the amateur astronomy community that we hope to use to broaden out situation awareness in space," Air Force Lt. Col. Travis Blake, said. "SpaceView should provide more diverse data from different geographic locations to ensure we have a robust understanding of the current and future state of our space assets."

The program will be long-term and will include financial compensation and upgrades to the amateur astronomers hardware, and by purchasing remote access to an already in-use telescope or even by providing a telescope to selected astronomers.

On the SpaceView website it reads:

SpaceView seeks to provide the amateur astronomer with the opportunity to make a difference in the task of protecting our nation’s space assets. We are actively seeking information from individual astronomers about their equipment, sites, and observing habits.

Visit the website to sign up and learn more about the program.


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