With the preponderance of the use of satellite technology—from broadcasting television to providing walking directions to people’s smartphones—one would imagine that the area just above the atmosphere is cluttered with them. However, there are less than 3000 satellites up there doing “a job.”
There are between 20,000-35,000 objects spiraling around the Earth at any given time, mostly debris from space missions. In order to keep a better eye on all of that stuff whirling above our heads, the U.S. Air Force recently declassified their plan to launch a satellite system for just that purpose.
Called a “neighborhood watch” satellite by General William Shelton, the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program “will supplement ground-based radars and optical telescopes in tracking” both space-debris and the activities of foreign satellites, according to Reuters. While the GSSAP will monitor the positions of purposeful satellites in order to avoid collisions with space junk—which travels at about 17,000 miles-per-hour—it will also remain on guard for satellites that are trying to avoid detection, perhaps for the purposes of monitoring U.S. interests or other clandestine activities.
The GSSAP are scheduled to go up in the last quarter of 2014 on an unmanned Delta 4 rocket, and critics wonder why the U.S. government declassified the program and effectively informed “our enemies” of this satellite’s capabilities. Yet, according to Brian Weeden, technical advisor with the Secure World Foundation and quoted by Reuters, that is precisely what the Obama Administration intended. He says they are “being more honest when [they say] it declassified this program to try and deter attacks on U.S. satellites.”
Rather than catching adversaries or, worse, allies attempting to interfere with our national satellite system, the White House prefers to simply let everyone know that they have the ability to monitor the satellites closely.