The International Space Station and the space shuttle Discovery almost had to dodge some deadly space debris yesterday. Again. NASA is not installing any lasers soon, but the US Air Force is moving forward on their own object defence plan.
The USAF is working with various companies to develop a system that will allow to track the more than 600,000 pieces of space debris that are orbiting the planet. It may seem like a small number compared to the immensity of space, but the fact is that things are getting quite hairy up there. Especially after last February, when two communication satellites—a Russian Cosmo and an American Iridium—collided at 113,000km/h, 790 kilometres above Siberia.
The system is called the Space Situation Awareness, or Space Fence, and will consist of three networked football field-sized S-band radars distributed all across the world. The radars will track every single dangerous piece of debris orbiting the planet, keeping it in a continuously updated database. If there is any collision danger, the alert will break, and the astronauts will live to see another day in their shiny white space suits.
Unfortunately, the $US2 billion system won't be operational till 2015.