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U.S. warns of space "dodgeball" after satellite crash
Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:47pm EST
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By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Countries with satellites in space will have to play "dodgeball" for decades to avoid debris from this week's collision of U.S. and Russian satellites over Siberia, a top U.S. military officer said on Thursday.
"My worry is that that debris field is going to be up there for a while," said General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former head of the military's space operations.
"So we're going to have to play a little bit of dodgeball for many tens of years to come," he said.
"The good news is once it stabilizes, it's relatively predictable," he told a forum on the national security implications of operations in space. "The bad news is it's a large area."
A telecommunications satellite owned by Iridium Satellite LLC and a defunct Russian military communications satellite were destroyed about 485 miles above the Russian Arctic on Tuesday.
Cartwright, who from 2004 to 2007 headed the Pentagon's Strategic Command responsible for space operations, said the military had been alerted by Iridium to the sudden "non-reporting" of the destroyed craft.
Iridium runs a network that uses 66 satellites to provide voice and data services for about 300,000 far-flung clients worldwide. It provides voice and data services for areas not served by ground-based communications networks.
Cartwright said he expected within a month to be able to forecast where spacecraft could be placed to avoid the orbiting junk. There are already more than 18,000 pieces of debris cataloged by the command's Joint Space Operations Center.
As with all objects large enough to track, data on the new debris will be posted on the public website Space-Track.org "so all nations and companies with assets in space have access to the information," Navy Lt. Charles Drey, a Strategic Command spokesman, said.
Another command spokesman, Air Force Colonel Les Kodlick, told Reuters on Wednesday that more than 500 bits of debris were being tracked from the collision.
He said then it was believed to have been the first collision between two satellites in orbit but a Pentagon spokesman contradicted this on Thursday.
"There were three or four other events," spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters, without providing details. The Strategic Command did not immediately respond to a request to explain the discrepancy.
Whitman said it was not possible for the U.S. military to track and predict the movements of all 18,000 objects in space all the time.
"Because there is so much, you have to prioritize what you're looking at," he said. "There are limits on your ability to track and compute every piece..." Continued...
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