Haney: Space Operations Growing “Increasingly Vulnerable”

Space situational awareness for US orbital assets is a growing concern as other nations eliminate the technology gap by investing in their own various “strategic capabilities,” making space more competitive and “increasingly vulnerable,” US Strategic Command boss Adm. Cecil Haney said during a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event on Capitol Hill Friday. The number of objects in space is only going up, he pointed out. The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., tracks more than 17,000 objects on orbit the size of a softball or larger—and there are many more smaller objects that can’t yet be tracked, he said. Only 1,200 of the 17,000 are satellites, and the rest are debris, he noted. He cautioned the growth of “micro satellite” technology, conceding its great research and scientific value but noting their proliferation poses more potential danger to other assets. He said “cube sats” have been involved in over 360,000 close approaches of less than three miles to larger satellites. Last year, of 229 payloads launched into orbit across the world, some 158 of them were nano or micro satellites (one Russian space launch last July put a record 37 satellites on orbit, he noted). “Consider for a moment the devastating effects of just one collision and what it could have on our financial and economic sectors and our ability to conduct military operations.”