Aug 30, 2011 9:41 PM by Ariel Wesler

VAFB tracks thousands of pieces of space junk

Ever heard of space junk? It's thousands of man made objects orbiting the earth. Ever wonder who keeps track of it? We did. Turns out the men and women of the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base help monitor it.

If you think about it, satellites run our lives from our cell phones and GPS devices to ATM transactions, satellite television and radio.

Space has become a crowded place.

"We started out in 1957 with one satellite up in space, the Sputnik, and now we have over 22,000 objects in our catalogue that we track every day," said JSPoC Airman 1st Class Katie Trummel.

The men and women of the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base monitor the man-made mess using a network of sensors positioned around the world. The sensors record around 400,000 observations every day.

"Make sure that the information that they're sending is good, that it's accurate," Trummel said.

She stays busy scanning space for the speedy debris--some of it travels at about 17,000 miles per hour.

"You're talking about hitting bullets with bullets up there," Trummel said.

Most of the debris eventually burns up in the atmosphere, but not always. This piece from a Delta II rocket now sits in the lobby of the operations center. It crashed in Argentina in 2004 after spending 11 years in orbit.

"We make sure that they're not going to crash into anything, that nothing is going to crash into them," Trummel said.

And these days, protecting our satellites helps protect us all.

"You pick up your cell phone just expecting it to have your GPS on it now and be able to send your texts, and the reason you can do that is because we do our job here," Trummel said.

JSpOC says collisions are rare, but if there is a threat say to the International Space Station, the group will contact NASA. The agency will then decide whether to move the space station or take other measures to protect the astronauts.

If you'd like to know more about the JSpOC, click here.


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