U.S. Air Force acknowledges aging space monitoring systems need replacing

East-Asia-Intel.com, May 18, 2011

As China is stepping up its space weapons, including anti-satellite missiles, U.S. space monitoring equipment is old and in need of replacement, it was disclosed at a Senate hearing last week.

The Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing May 11 disclosed that China’s January 2007 anti-satellite missile test, that destroyed a weather satellite, created tens of thousands of pieces of debris that increased the amount of space junk floating in space and poses a danger to satellites and human spacecraft.

Sen. Ben Nelson (Nebraska-Democrat) and subcommittee chairman disclosed that the computer system used at the Joint Space Operations Center that monitors space is "old and it no longer is able to handle the available data." Additionally, he said upgrading the system "has proven to be an acquisition challenge."

In response, Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, said "yes, we do have a vision, and you’re exactly right."

"The SPADOC system, which is currently the capability that we use in order to track objects in space, not only our satellite operations, but also the pieces of debris, we have a sensor sweep that’s all over the world, that basically contributes to a catalog that, in effect, allows us to have knowledge of what is going on in space," she said.

The system is "aging rapidly" and is "pretty much past its design life."

"It will be unsustainable at some point because of the nature of the computer system that it rides on," Helms said.

Upgrading the system is crucial to achieving what is called space situational awareness of all objects in space, which is critical for defending against foreign space weapons as well as debris, she said.

The Air Force hopes to get a replacement system quickly to avoid gaps in coverage. Helms also called for creating an open architecture that relies on dedicated space monitoring sensors as well as other sensors, such as those used by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency for missile warning and tracking.

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