Space: More Eyes On The Sky


November 22, 2007: With the end of the Cold War in 1991, the U.S. Air Force began to divert resources away from keeping an eye on Russian space satellites. Since Russia was broke, and satellites have a limited useful life (many only a few years), it was obvious that Russians armada of space satellites would shrink in decade or so. That came to pass, but then China showed up with a rapidly growing space program. Added to that is the growing amount of "space junk" (bits of worn out satellites, and launcher rockets) orbiting the planet. This stuff constitutes a lot of the "weather" up there, because if you know where the junk is, you can steer your satellites away from it (a lot of the junk travels in groups or "clouds" and can seriously mess up satellites that are still operational.) The other "weather" is blasts of gas and particles spewed out by the Sun. This radiation can damage satellites. But if you have specialized birds operational, watching the sun, you get some warning, and the ability to move or shut down vulnerable satellites.

The air force, and some of the intelligence agencies, also want to enlarge their force of analysts that specialize in watching orbital space. There used to be a lot of them, but the post-Cold War cutbacks saw that force shrink. The air force is looking for money to do all this, at a time when the war on terror has priority. That makes it unlikely that U.S. eyes on space will get sharper any time soon. The additional satellites, ground based radars and analysts will arrive slowly.


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