U.S. must keep better track of space junk It could endanger orbital station, study says

December 14, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- If the United States is going to help build a multibillion-dollar international space station, the U.S. Space Command must keep better track of space junk.

That is the finding of a sweeping study of the space surveillance capabilities of NASA and the Defense Department, done by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Space Command's "existing space surveillance network is not capable of providing the information NASA needs to adequately predict collisions between space objects orbiting the Earth" and the space station, the report says.

An official with the U.S. Space Command said Friday: "It's inappropriate to comment until we get a chance to further study the report."

The official did say Space Command sensors can track an object as small as 10 centimeters across (about the size of softball), and it is developing a system to detect and track objects half that size.

The report, released this month, states there are an estimated 35 million objects floating in space near Earth. About 93 percent are smaller than 1 centimeter and only 8,000 are larger than 10 centimeters.

"The increasing amount of space debris creates a hazard" to the space station, which could be built by several nations by 2003, according to the report.

Rep. Robert E. "Bud" Cramer of Alabama requested the report as the ranking Democratic member of the House subcommittee on space and aeronautics.

Investigators suggested that both agencies "develop a coordinated government-wide space surveillance plan" that would ensure safe space flights and bolster national security.

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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