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DARPA wants army of networked amateur astronomers to watch sky for space junk

SpaceView program aimed at offering more data to the US Air Force’s Space Surveillance Network

By Layer 8 on Wed, 11/14/12 - 11:57am.

There is really so much junk floating around in space the government needs help keeping track of it all. This week the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced a program to utilize amateur astronomers to help watch space for any dangerous junk that maybe be threatening satellites or other spacecraft and even the Earth.  If you have a telescope, great but the program will even install equipment if you are in a strategic area the government want to watch.

Background: 8 surprising hunks of space gear that returned to Earth

DARPA's program , known as SpaceView is strategically aimed at offering more diverse data to the Space Surveillance Network (SSN), a US Air Force program charged with cataloguing and observing space objects to identify potential near-term collisions.

With SpaceView DARPA will provide "state of the art hardware and relatively minor financial compensation may be provided in exchange for the shared telescope time, site security, and routine maintenance.  This allows the SpaceView concept to significantly reduce deployment costs when compared to traditional optical space-surveillance facilities.   Equally important, remote observing and the availability of the local SpaceView member for troubleshooting eliminates the need for any paid employees at the site, further decreasing operational costs," DARPA stated. 

According to the agency, SpaceView is in its initial developmental phase which consists of developing the network architecture and demonstrating the ability to remotely and automatically operate a network of sites from a central location.  A large part of developing the network architecture consists of determining the needs of the amateur astronomy community so that these needs can be aligned with the space surveillance needs of SpaceView, DARPA stated.

If you are interested in signing up go here.  According to DARPA, by providing contact information and the answers to a few basic questions you will be helping us to begin the process of gathering the information we need to develop the network architecture concept more thoroughly.  Once your information has been received by SpaceView interested parties will most likely receive a link via email to a questionnaire requesting more detailed information regarding your astronomy background, observing habits, as well as other demographic information.  This information will be used by SpaceView to determine the habits and needs of candidate network members. 

NASA estimates more than 500,000 pieces of hazardous space debris orbit the earth, threatening satellites that support peacekeeping and combat missions.

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Examples of what NASA calls orbital debris include: "Derelict spacecraft and upper stages of launch vehicles, carriers for multiple payloads, debris intentionally released during spacecraft separation from its launch vehicle or during mission operations, debris created as a result of spacecraft or upper stage explosions or collisions, solid rocket motor effluents, and tiny flecks of paint released by thermal stress or small particle impacts. "

According to NASA the Top 10 space junk producing missions are:

Name                           Year of Breakup     Debris items Cause of Breakup

  • Fengyun-1C 2007 2,841 Intentional Collision
  • Cosmos 2251 2009 1,267 Accidental Collision
  • STEP 2 Rocket Body 1996 713 Accidental Explosion
  • Iridium 33 2009 521 Accidental Collision
  • Cosmos 2421 2008 509 Unknown
  • SPOT 1 Rocket Body 1986 492 Accidental Explosion
  • OV2-1 Rocket Body 1965 473 Accidental Explosion
  • Nimbus 4 Rocket Body 1970 374 Accidental Explosion
  • TES Rocket Body 2001 370 Accidental Explosion
  • CBERS 1 Rocket Body 2000 343 Accidental Explosion

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