Who’s keeping track of space debris?

Posted by Anonymous
on Friday, November 10, 2006

Touring the space-surveillance unit at White Sands Missile Range near Socorro, New Mexico, was a rare treat I was glad to experience while attending the Enchanted Skies Star Party in Socorro. U.S. Air Force Capt. Charles M. Holland, Commander of Detachment 1, 21st Operations Group, led our group on a tour of the Air Force's lead Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) system.

Capt. Holland and his detachment detect, track, identify, and report on all human-made objects orbiting in deep space, at distances between 3,000 and 20,000 miles (4,800–32,000 kilometers) from Earth. Three telescopes, each 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter, help carry out the GEODSS space mission — keeping our astronauts safe from hazardous encounters with the ever-growing number of satellites and space debris orbiting Earth.

Each evening, three domes at the White Sands facility open their doors at civil twilight — just after sunset, when the Sun sinks 6° below the horizon — and the telescopes within begin tracking objects until morning’s twilight approaches.

The GEODSS motto is, “Ever Vigilant in the Heavens.” And with each nightly telescopic foray into the space surrounding Earth, the Air Force team keeps its commitment,  ensuring the safety of the astronauts who venture away from our pale blue dot of a planet to visit the International Space Station and locations beyond.

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