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Helping satellites dodge space junk

Helping satellites dodge space junk

This artist's conception shows the broad scope of space debris circling the planet, hundreds of miles above sea level, at the same height where low-Earth orbit satellites operate. The spatial density of debris objects increases at high latitudes. The size of the debris elements in this image is greatly exaggerated compared to the size of Earth. (Image courtesy European Space Agency.)
This artist's conception shows the broad scope of space debris circling the planet, hundreds of miles above sea level, at the same height where low-Earth orbit satellites operate. The spatial density of debris objects increases at high latitudes. The size of the debris elements in this image is greatly exaggerated compared to the size of Earth. (Image courtesy European Space Agency.)

As two astronauts discovered in the hit film Gravity, encountering a stray bit of space junk can ruin your whole day. Space debris is more than a Hollywood plot device, though: it poses serious risks to a wide array of satellites critical to society. NCAR is part of a collaborative effort to help reduce those risks by modeling the effects of space weather on satellite orbits.

Commissioned by the U.S. Air Force and brought into testing mode this summer, the Atmospheric Density Assimilation Model (ADAM) takes into account real-time information on satellite tracks and space weather to predict future satellite paths as much as 72 hours in advance.

The ADAM project is being spearheaded by the private firm ASTRA in collaboration with NCAR, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center. “We’re pleased to lead such a stellar team,” said ASTRA chief scientist Geoff Crowley, who is heading the project.

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July 2, 2014


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