Photo: (PAT CORKERY, UNITED LAUNCH ALLIANCE)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Shrinking government budgets, combined with a growing reliance on space assets by the United States — especially by its military — are putting the country in an undefended position, Gen. William Shelton, commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, said Tuesday.
Every U.S. military action depends on space capabilities such as satellite-based surveillance, communications, and mapping and weather technologies, Shelton said here at the 29th annual National Space Symposium. Yet the satellite networks that provide these services are “fragile” and spread thin, and there are no backups for these technologies if they were to fail, Shelton stressed, at one point describing the conditions as a “perfect storm”-type situation.
“It’s like mountain climbers who depend on a very thin rope,” Shelton said.
The threats to U.S. spacecraft include not just deliberate attacks by hostile states, but also the possibility of a collision with a piece of the abundant space trash — which includes things like spent rocket stages, defunct spacecraft and bits of destroyed satellites — that litters the corridors of Earth. The government is tracking about 23,000 pieces of space debris, but there are estimated to be more than 500,000 bits up there, many of which are too small for U.S. radar systems to detect. [Photos: Space Debris Cleanup Concepts]
“Space was once a benign, much-less-crowded place,” Shelton said. “This is no longer true.”
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