Laser tagged – how the JSpOC manages laser deconfliction

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Robert J. Volio
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs

Since its invention in 1960, lasers have found their way into a wide range of uses – from the more commonly known applications seen in modern medicine, optical data drives and laser pointers, to developing technologies in astronomy, communication, and military defense. When laser energy is emitted above the horizon, it continues to travel into space and may inadvertently illuminate satellites. That’s where the Laser Clearinghouse and its unique mission come into play.

This small team within the Joint Space Operations Center is responsible for the registration, scheduling and deconfliction of a wide range of laser programs.

“The Laser Clearinghouse mission is to ensure that Department of Defense laser activities are conducted in a safe and responsible manner that protects space systems, their mission effectiveness, and humans in space, consistent with national security,” said Army Capt. Austin Baker, JSpOC LCH chief.

For the three-man shop, there is no shortage of work as laser programs continue to develop.

“On a day-to-day basis, we perform several important functions – registration of new laser programs, scheduling activities, laser deconfliction processing, and system maintenance,” said Baker. “While DoD laser programs are required to register with the LCH for any activity that enters space, non-DoD lasers may also register and receive deconfliction products as resources allow.”

If someone is interested in getting lasers into the atmosphere, they must run their proposal through the LCH for approval.

“When a group’s laser program wishes to fire above the horizon, they must submit a standardized request containing information about the operation – the location of the laser, the date and times of when they will begin and conclude, and where in the sky the laser will be pointed,” said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Tarrant, JSpOC LCH NCOIC. “The LCH then takes those requests and computes open time-windows in which a laser is cleared to fire, and provides them back to the laser program.”

The functions performed by the LCH are vital in maintaining order in an already crowded space arena.

“Our deconfliction products ensure lasers can operate safely without harming objects in space,” said Baker. “The JSpOC has a vested interest in protecting and defending U.S. and allied satellites, as well as avoiding unintended impact to commercial or international satellites. We are very proud that we can contribute to the protect and defend mission.”

In addition to defending our extraterrestrial resources, Baker and his team work around-the-clock hours to enable the advancement of laser technologies and applications.

“It is particularly rewarding to contribute to the testing of directed energy weapons such as the High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck, Ground Based Air Defense system, and the Laser Weapon System,” said Baker. “These programs will provide new and significant means of providing force protection against such threats as rockets, mortars, artillery, and unmanned aerial systems to our Warfighters across the globe.”

With ever-developing space and technological advances, the LCH personnel remain steadfast in their commitment to protect space assets.

“The space arena is constantly changing and becoming more important to our global community,” said Tarrant. “Laser technology is continuing to play a larger role in research, testing, development and operations. As we utilize laser assets more and more, protection of those space-based assets become more complicated and important.”