Strategic Command adds Germany to its space surveillance network

The U.S. Strategic Command is expanding its international alliance to keep track of objects orbiting the Earth, bringing Germany on board with a group that already includes a number of European and Asian space organizations.

The Director of U.S. Strategic Command’s Air Force Plans and Policy, Maj. Gen. David Thompson, and German Army Brig. Gen. Dirk Backen, Defense Attaché at the Germany Embassy, recently signed an arrangement to share space situational awareness services and data.

Under the agreement, both the U.S. and Germany will increase situational awareness capabilities in space, with the goal of achieving safer spaceflight operations and better understanding of hazardous objects outside the terrestrial realm.    

Germany joins seven other nations—the United Kingdom, South Korea, France, Canada, Italy, Japan and Australia—and two international organizations—the European Space Agency and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites—that already are sharing spapce situational awareness data with the United States, according to a release by the Strategic Command. 

“Space situational awareness requires cooperation, and arrangements such as this allow us to partner more effectively,” Adm. Cecil Haney, Stratcom’s commander, said in the release.

There are over a thousand active satellites in orbit, along with about 2,600 inactive satellites and countless pieces of space junk, all travelling at about 17,000 miles per hour. Keeping track of what’s up there is a key to avoiding collisions that could disrupt services.

The Air Force has a space-based program, called Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness, that consists of a constellation of satellites that collect information and track man-made objects orbiting the Earth.  The data collected from GSSAP satellites will better position the Air Force and Stratcom to accurately track and predict orbits for enhanced flight safety and collision avoidance.

Similarly, the European Space Agency’s Space Situational Awareness program monitors weather events in space such as solar winds, tracks natural objects such as asteroids and surveils active and inactive man-made satellites that all could affect spaceborne and ground-based infrastructure as well as human life. 

The Air Force, along with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also runs the ground-based Space Surveillance Network, consisting of telescopes stationed around the world.

Stratcom maintains data sharing streamlines the information-sharing process between partners and enables greater situational awareness among all parties. “The information is crucial for launch support, satellite maneuver planning, support for on-orbit anomalies, electromagnetic interference reporting and investigation, satellite decommissioning activities and on-orbit conjunction assessments,” Stratcom said.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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