OMAHA, Neb. — Commercial imaging satellite operator GeoEye has had to move its spacecraft several times to avoid orbital debris, according to William Schuster, the company’s chief operating officer, who said the problem is only growing worse.
Speaking Nov. 3 at the Strategic Space Symposium here, Schuster said GeoEye has had to maneuver its 10-year-old Ikonos satellite seven times to avoid space junk. The company has had to take evasive actions four times with its GeoEye-1 satellite, which has been on orbit just over a year.
Schuster said space situational awareness information is crucial and that the more accurate the data, the less fuel a satellite has to consume to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision. The fewer evasive actions a satellite has to take, the longer it can last on orbit, he said.
Space situational awareness continues to be a point of emphasis for the U.S. military, particularly in the wake of a collision early this year between an active Iridium communications satellite and a spent Russian craft. U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Larry James, commander of the 14th Air Force and U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space, said the U.S. military’s Space Surveillance Network is tracking 21,000 objects in Earth orbit and is performing close monitoring of some 800 maneuverable satellites for collision risk assessment. Speaking with reporters here at the symposium, James said the goal is to increase the number of closely monitored satellites to 1,300 by the end of the year.