DARPA Eyes Space Junk From the Ground

By Eric Beidel
Deep space is hard enough to comprehend, let alone see.

Current ground-based telescopes leave the Defense Department with a limited view of the nether regions, putting military satellites used for intelligence and communications at risk of colliding with meteors, space debris or other satellites.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, though, is wrapping up a demonstration with a new Space Surveillance Telescope that officials say will offer an unprecedented view of objects in space.

“Currently we have a soda-straw view of deep space, where we can only see one narrow segment of space at a time,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Travis Blake, DARPA’s program manager for the telescope, which is based at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. “The Space Surveillance Telescope should give us a much wider windshield view of deep space objects, significantly enhancing our space situational awareness.”

The telescope features large, curved focal surface array sensors and doesn’t require the long optics of more traditional designs. It can more easily move on its mount and quickly survey the sky. The telescope is extremely sensitive to light and can detect faint objects that currently can’t be seen, officials said.

“The SST will give us in a matter of nights the space surveillance data that current telescopes take weeks or months to provide,” Blake said.

The telescope collected its first images earlier this year and is finishing up tests to prove it can autonomously detect dim objects. A study to determine its usefulness for Air Force Space Command will follow.

Officials intend to use the telescope to expand the catalogue of objects in the geosynchronous region of space, which is about 22,000 miles above Earth. It could also be used to conduct astronomical surveys of stars and comets, they said.

Topics: Science and Engineering Technology, DARPA, Space

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