HomeNewsArticle Display

Air Force official testifies on dangers of 'space junk'

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- One congresswoman summed up the issue succinctly during a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing May 9: space junk is a growing problem.

Lt. Gen. John W. "Jay" Raymond, the commander of the 14th Air Force, Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Force Component Command for Space, testified at the hearing, along with technical and legal experts and officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Communications Commission.

Raymond noted his task force provides emergency warning of impending orbital collisions to all of the world's spacefaring governments and companies, though it collaborates closely in space primarily with Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. JFCC Space, he explained, catalogs and tracks the trajectories of all known orbiting systems and debris.

"JFCC Space is the world's premier provider of space situational awareness, data and products," Raymond said. "Over the past few years, we have bolstered our commercial and international partnerships, we've implemented two-way sharing agreements and we've worked collaboratively to refine our sharing processes."

The general noted the command also is on track to deliver a new command-and-control system, the Joint Space Operations Mission System and additional space situational-awareness sensors.

Each agency represented at the hearing, along with NASA and others, has a role to play in U.S. space operations. All of the witnesses stated that the United States must improve domestic space traffic management, and move quickly to foster international agreement on use of space.

Key orbits, mostly crowded with government-owned vehicles, are becoming obstacle courses, experts testified, as more countries launch more objects into space. But each of those objects could become a minefield if it collided with another at "hypervelocity" orbital speeds many times faster than a bullet, as one witness testified.

Such a disaster has happened spectacularly at least twice in the past decade.

In 2007, China destroyed one of its own old satellite systems in orbit during an anti-satellite weapon test, in what hearing attendees called the largest known creation of space debris in history.

China's test blasted the nonworking mass into a "cloud" that diffused widely -- in some depictions, it now resembles a seeding dandelion head -- and is estimated by some at the hearing to include 150,000 objects centimeter-sized or larger.

The second orbital catastrophe occurred in 2009, when Russian satellite Kosmos-2251 and U.S. commercial satellite Iridium 33 collided, destroying both. Each vehicle disintegrated along its orbital path, scattering a roughly X-shaped debris field one witness said holds some 2,000 objects of at least a centimeter.

Each piece of space junk, as well as each functioning orbital object that eventually will become junk, has a projected duration in orbit that varies from months to centuries, witnesses noted -- mostly depending on the object's size, shape and orbital elevation.

Raymond said monitoring increasingly complex traffic and debris in the space domain is and will remain his command's mission as part of Defense Department, both to protect national security and because no other agency is equipped to do so.

While JFCC Space constantly tracks orbital objects and adjusts recorded trajectories, Raymond acknowledged the command has no authority to act against a potentially destructive satellite or other object in space.

Regulations governing even U.S. domestic spaceflight are complicated. As witnesses explained, the FAA has authority over U.S. commercial and government space vehicles -- but only on launch and re-entry, not during orbit. The DOD has responsibility to monitor, but cannot enforce, space movements.

But testimony suggested the need to bring order to managing close encounters in space is pressing.

Raymond noted one witness had testified that NASA's International Space Station had changed position 16 times to avoid striking other objects in orbit.

"In fact, just last month we told them to move it twice," he added.

Witnesses and committee members agreed as the hearing closed that effectively managing space transportation, clearing debris from orbit and protecting the planet from strikes by near-Earth objects are all challenges that will require national and international effort.

Engage

Twitter
The Department of the Air Force will soon conduct focus groups with Total Force Airmen and Space Professionals abou… https://t.co/uPAlbUEYxt
Twitter
RT @AFGlobalStrike: For 50+ years, #MinutemanIII #ICBM fleet has underpinned our strategic force & played critical role in ensuring protect…
Twitter
RT @RealAFOSI: Between Oct. 20 and 21, 2020, Iranian threat actors conducted an information operations campaign by sending emails, masquera…
Twitter
Ready day or night The 8th Fighter Wing at @KunsanAirBase stands ready to conduct counter-air, air interdiction,… https://t.co/8FzXyQPwFo
Twitter
RT @SpaceForceDoD: Vice Chief of Space Operations tests positive for COVID-19 https://t.co/El9DBFkpAg
Twitter
Global reach Approximately 200 Airmen and four B-1B Lancer aircraft with the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron from… https://t.co/XdxCzteeGx
Twitter
Small business partnerships 🤝 @AFWERX is recommending more than 250 proposals as part of its X20D Small Business… https://t.co/vzVcj7Idfc
Twitter
Rapid strategic delivery 📦 The 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, deployed with @USAFCENT, is responsible for… https://t.co/WxSke8iXnG
Twitter
Fulfilling mission-critical requirements The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently granted the #USAF a patent… https://t.co/wtf5K6NITn
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Looking forward to this dialogue today with Dr. Austin.
Twitter
Accelerating change Airmen from the 366th Fighter Wing and 389th Fighter Squadron participate in Agile Flag 21-1 a… https://t.co/07r8CmEgl9
Twitter
Rolling out new tech The Air Force Civil Engineer Center made its first delivery of a new medium-size explosive or… https://t.co/Gj0PUVeQ6S
Twitter
#InnovativeAF @NASA representatives presented new medical diagnostic technology, the E-Nose Breathalyzer, which wi… https://t.co/mUzpASXPGm
Twitter
Pitstop ⛽️ A C-17 Globemaster pilot checks the alignment of a KC-135 Stratotankers aerial refueling boom. The flyi… https://t.co/ovgj9rh3uV
Twitter
The 23rd Security Forces Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, will be the first to receive the new system.… https://t.co/UsQNUTdoNE
Twitter
New EOD robots are coming 🤖 Over the next 16-18 months, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center will deliver 333 high… https://t.co/wCmAo5GzDm
Twitter
RT @WILLROP3R: (3 of 3) What commercial #deeptech project should @usairforce and @SpaceForceDoD start next? What else should we consider? 🤔…
Twitter
RT @WILLROP3R: (2 of 3) What commercial #deeptech project should @usairforce and @SpaceForceDoD start next? What else should we consider?…
Twitter
RT @WILLROP3R: (1 of 3) @usairforce is investing $100M with tech startups to make flying cars real. Today's AMA discussed what commercial #…
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,298,485
Follow Us