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Why global collaboration is essential to space situational awareness

By: jsheehan
Last week went by in a flash as I traveled to Omaha and New Orleans for two of our biggest tradeshows of the year—USSTRATCOM Space Symposium and GEOINT 2010. Tradeshows are the best places to take the pulse of the industry, and I was heartened to hear speaker after speaker drive home the importance of international cooperation as a key to improved space situational awareness (SSA) and the safety of space operations. In AGI’s opinion, they are right on the mark. We all remember the Iridium-Cosmos collision and the nearly 2,000 pieces of space junk it unleashed into low Earth orbit. Unfortunately, we will live with the consequences of that for decades—maybe centuries—to come. To keep from having to deal with this again, the global space industry must work collaboratively to make space safer. No single player has the best data for everything that occurs in space and, today, approximately 1,000 active satellites—operated by dozens of countries—orbit the Earth. If the operators and their governments shared their orbital data and space surveillance resources, we would have a much more comprehensive picture than is currently available. This year AGI helped the Space Data Association (SDA) stand up a service that will help to alleviate this problem. SDA members share proprietary operational data including planned maneuvers, which provides the most accurate method today of tracking satellites, predicting potential close approaches and avoiding radio frequency interference. We won the contract to design and operate the service, known as the Space Data Center, in late 2009 and reached initial operational capabilities at the end of July this year. Our software brings a key element to the table: It can understand all the different formats, units, coordinate frames and time systems used by the different global operators and translate everyone’s orbital data to a normalized reference frame. Cracking the space community’s “language barrier” is essential to accurate understanding. Now we as an industry look forward to growing the membership. Obviously, the more commercial operators and government organizations involved, the more accurate the picture. The goal is lofty, but given what’s at stake, it is critical that we achieve it. I welcome your feedback and comments.
Posted: 11/12/2010 8:59:14 PM