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article imageSpace is the world's new military battleground

By Adriana Stuijt     Feb 17, 2009 in Technology
Space is the world's new military battle-ground: the Indian Air Force and North Korea both plan putting satellites into space soon; and the collision of two satellites has brought this new problem into sharp focus: "It is a crowded place out there.'
That was said by United States marine gen. James E Cartwright. (see video) in response to the recent collision between a US and Russian Federation satellite, warning that the US must urgently change its basic approach to the management of the overcrowded space immediately around the planet. "We must urgently address this issue; how can we protect our security assets in space?" he asked.
The collision of a Russian and American communication satellites has left a debris pattern that may affect future space operations, warns Cartright, who is the vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. He spoke at a symposium co-sponsored by the George C. Marshall Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Space Enterprise Council.
Meanwhile it's getting increasingly crowded around the planet, with India's Air Force becoming the latest to announce its own satellite by 2010, and planning its own Aerospace command. "We will launch our satellite by the end of 2010," IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major said in New Delhi on February 17.
Their military satellite is to be launched by India's ISRO agency next year, with civiian use piggy-backed on.The Indian air force also has plans to set up an Aerospace command but is still facing opposition from the other two services over the issue.see
North Korea plans satellite launch soon:
And crowds in North Korea, celebrating their leader's birthday, are also eagerly awaiting the launch of that rogue nation's first satellite into space. The launch is believed to be imminent. see
Cartwright, speaking on the national security ramifications of the collision between the American and Russian Federation satellites, said the event shows the need for better information sharing and space situational awareness.
The American satellite, owned by Iridium Satellite of Bethesda, Md., weighed about 1,200 pounds and collided with a Russian satellite that had been nonoperational for more than a decade. The crash happened 491 miles above Siberia. The collision was confirmed when the active U.S. satellite did not report in and the debris field was picked up by sensors.
Yesterday, some of the debris was reported by golfers in the USA who saw large pieces burning up in the atmosphere. "My worry is that debris field is going to be up there for about a year, so we're going to have to play a little bit of dodgeball," Cartwright said.
"It's going to be a problem because it will take a month or two for the debris to settle down and for us to understand the scope of the field to be able to track it and understand where at least the larger objects are."
The debris will be around for some time because the satellites were in a high orbit around the earth, Cartwright said. Once the debris field has stabilized, there will be a pattern that all countries can use to navigate around, he said.
"It's a field of debris out there that's going to be out there for many years," he said. "The good news is once it's stabilized, it's relatively predictable. The bad news is, it's a large area. If we're denied that large area for use, it becomes a problem."
Many of the US' commercial and national security satellites, particularly communications satellites, rely on certain spacing between other objects in order to be effective, Cartwright said. Losing a spot because of debris could have a financial or operational impact on anyone wanting to use the space, he said.
"If that's going to be long term, that's a problem for us," he said.
The general said he hopes the incident will result in a better exchange of satellite orbit data between countries. "I'd like to be able to find a way, not only with Russia, but with other nations to make sure that our exchange of data is more complete," he said."We would be remiss to not take advantage of this and turn it into good."
The need for space situational awareness has changed drastically in recent years, the general said.
"It was acceptable five years ago to know something was out there and check on it every couple weeks," he said. "Those days are just not tolerable anymore."
The European Union also recently laid out its own voluntary space code to start controlling and managing the problem better. see
Cartwright said that whereas countries previously could wait a few days or weeks to get satellites stabilized in their orbits, the current congestion in space pushes that timeframe down to seconds and minutes, he said. see
First US Milstar satellite 15 years old and going strong:
Meanwhile, the first US Air Force Milstar communications satellite, built by a Lockheed Martin team, has malready achieved 15 years of on-orbit operations.
Five years beyond its original design life, the satellite is 100 percent mission capable and will continue providing secure, reliable and robust communications to U.S. and Allied Forces around the globe for years to come, the Air Force believes. see
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