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JSpOC inscreases tracking capabilities

Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.-- Tech. Sgt. Gavin Iteen (left) and Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Hangle (right) review data recieved from the Delta II site here March 4. The purpose of Joint Space Operations Center is to provide a focal point for the operational employment of worldwide joint space forces, and enable the commander of Joint Functional Component Command Space to integrate space power into global military operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Antoinette Lyons)

Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.-- The purpose of Joint Space Operations Center is to provide a focal point for the operational employment of worldwide joint space forces, and enable the commander of Joint Functional Component Command Space to integrate space power into global military operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Antoinette Lyons)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Joint Space Operations Center here increased its daily conjunction assessment screening capabilities for maneuverable satellites by almost 700 percent Aug. 23.

In less than seven months, the JSpOC went from tracking 120 active maneuverable satellites to 807.

The JSpOC performs these satellite screenings to mitigate the danger of any satellites colliding with the more than 21,000 objects currently orbiting in space. After the collision of the United States' Iridium 33 and Russia's Cosmos 2251 satellites, the need for better screening capabilities became a priority.

"Before the collision happened, we rarely discussed the possibility of such a thing happening," said Col. Richard Boltz, the 614th Air and Space Operations Center commander and director of the JSpOC. "Now it's something we have a briefing about daily."

In response to the collision, the JSpOC was directed by Gen. Kevin Chilton, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, to begin investing more manpower into satellite screening. The goal was to begin screening all active maneuverable satellites by the beginning of the fiscal year, Oct. 1. However, after receiving ample manpower and developing increased efficiency, the JSpOC beat the project deadline by more than a month.

"We approached this (project) with the determination and energy to finish the project ahead of schedule," said Colonel Boltz. "The sooner we could provide protection, the better."

Using data received from the Space Surveillance Network, a worldwide network of 29 space surveillance sensors, the JSpOC members gather, compute and screen the information to alert satellite owners in the event of a possible conjunction. Using the information the JSpOC provides, the owners can then move the satellites to avoid any catastrophes.

By monitoring all maneuverable satellites, the JSpOC is able to protect many networks, such as communication, GPS and weather. These networks are ultimately essential to the entire world.

"Many of these satellites not only directly support people in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also people all around the world," said Colonel Boltz. "By keeping this system safe and being able to warn of collisions, it ensures that this capability remains."
Since the JSpOC started screening the 805 satellites, they have prevented six predicted conjunctions, proving a need for the screenings. If a conjunction were to happen, the possibility of debris re-entering the atmosphere would become a huge safety concern.

"By providing the service of screening, the Air Force is able to show its concern for the safety of space flight and for the future," said Capt. Nate Hippe, the chief of defense operations for the 614th AOC. "We are (using) the resources and personnel needed to eventually attain the goal of monitoring all satellites against all objects."

As more maneuverable satellites are launched into orbit, the JSpOC will continue to add them to the list of daily screenings.