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Through the use of telescopes, shuttles and active satellites, scientists are able to track the events beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Some surveillance in space is specifically aimed at finding and identifying potential security threats. For instance, there are networks all around the world that are dedicated to determining if floating space debris is actually a threat, and dealing with how to get rid of it. However, equally as much is put into place to monitor aging stars, planets, asteroids and surrounding galaxies. The ability to take pictures in not only the visible spectrum, but also ultraviolet and near infrared has come a long way in the past several decades.

Hubble Space Telescope

Despite early financial and technical difficulties, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) began its famous orbit in 1990. Originally, there were plans to launch it into orbit as early as 10 years prior to the actual launch date. While there were other initial proposals for various space telescopes, the Hubble Space Telescope is undoubtedly the most memorable due to the extremely detailed images that it is able to produce. Even though Hubble has required repair on several occasions, it is still on track to continue orbiting Earth until at least 2014.

  • Hubble Site – Learn more about the history and discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • Images from Hubble – See the clear images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope first hand, including a formation of galaxies that looks like a rose.

Air Force Space Surveillance System

While the official name for this branch of the US Space Surveillance Network is currently the Air Force Space Surveillance System, or Space Fence, the operation has undergone changes in name and line of command over the past decade. Originally, it was known as Naval Space Surveillance (NAVSPASUR). The Air Force Space Surveillance System is an integral part of America’s watch on outer space, and it primarily keeps track of exiting and entering manmade space objects, like missiles, satellites and shuttles. In addition to identifying ownership of objects re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the Network is also involved in predicting the path these objects will take, as well.

  • Air Force Space Surveillance System – Learn more about the transmitter sites that are part of Space Fence.

Space Based Space Surveillance

Commonly referred to as SBSS, the Space Based Space Surveillance program uses surveillance systems on both the ground and in space to monitor for manmade orbiting space objects. For instance, the program keeps track of satellites, shuttles and missiles that leave and reenter the atmosphere. SBSS is largely made up of a network of satellites that orbit Earth, which communicate images back to the ground support system. Just like the Hubble Space Telescope, the SBSS satellites also experienced a few minor setbacks before they were launched into space.

United States Space Surveillance Network

Part of the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), the United States Space Surveillance Network is dedicated to identifying, cataloging and predicting the returning pathway of all manmade objects in close proximity to the Earth’s atmosphere. The majority of the objects that the Network tracks consist of satellites; however, they are also responsible for monitoring space for any incoming missiles. In the event of an attack, the US Space Surveillance Network is in charge of preventing manmade threats from entering the atmosphere. They are only a small part of a worldwide space surveillance network.

  • Space Debris – Find out what space debris is and how it could harm the Earth.
  • Space Debris and the Environment – Learn how putting manmade objects into orbit in space could negatively impact the environment.

International Space Station and NASA

In addition to monitoring space from the ground using telescopes, NASA also uses the International Space Station (ISS) as a means to survey Earth’s lower atmosphere and the surrounding areas. The habitable satellite has been in orbit since 2000, and it serves as a means to gather valuable information through ongoing research conducted by humans. Because ISS can be seen with the naked eye, it is the object of many elementary and high school class discussions. While there are many benefits to having a human-manned satellite in space, one of the main advantages includes the ability to conduct continuous studies and observations without interruption.

  • The International Space Station – Read more about the history of ISS, including other prototypes of space stations before it.

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