U.S. To Keep Closer Watch for Debris Threat to Europe’s Metop Satellites

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PONTE VEDRA, Florida — The U.S. Defense Department will extend its close debris-threat monitoring to two European polar-orbiting meteorological satellites under an agreement announced Aug. 29 by Eumetsat, Europe’s meteorological satellite organization.

The agreement between the U.S. Strategic Command and the 30-nation Eumetsat adds a layer of protection to Eumetsat’s two Metop satellites, which are Europe’s contribution to the U.S.-European Initial Joint Polar System. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates two polar satellites of its own as part of the system.

Alain Ratier, director-general of Darmstadt, Germany-based Eumetsat, said the agreement “consolidates the protection of shared assets.”

The polar-orbiting Eumetsat and NOAA satellites operate in sun-synchronous orbits of around 800 kilometers in altitude, an orbital corridor that includes satellite and rocket debris. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network of ground- and space-based assets tracks the paths of debris large enough to be in its catalog and warns operators of possible future collisions so that the active satellites can be maneuvered out of the way.