Why Didn’t They See It Coming?

The collision of a non-functioning Russian military satellite (out of service for more than a decade) with an operational Iridium communications sat last week did not come up on the Air Force Space Command radar because neither was on the command’s priority list. AFSPC spokesman Andy Roake told New Scientist, “There just isn’t the manpower or computer capabilities to do that [track all satellites to warn of potential collisions] at this point.” And, AFP press service reports that Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman acknowledged the “limits on your ability to track and compute every piece of orbiting man-made object.” He added, “It’s an unfortunate incident that highlights the importance of cooperation and collaboration in space.” Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who likened the effect of the resulting debris field to a game of dodge ball, also said in his Space Enterprise Council remarks, “I’d like to be able to find a way, not only with Russia, but with other nations to make sure that our exchange of data is more complete.” He added, “We would be remiss to not take advantage of this and turn it into good.” (Includes AFPS report by MSgt. Adma Stump)