We don’t send people into space anymore but America is a world leader in satellite technology. We don’t even notice how important our lives are thanks to satellites. From getting money out of a cash machine to just watching TV depends on satellites in space. For the United States military, satellites are our best defense. Satellites are used to communicate with troops, gather intelligence, fly drones and target weapons. Now we need to worry about the war in space. Our satellites might be vulnerable to attack. China in particular has been testing anti-satellite weapons that could take out our eyes and ears in space. They also recently threw Bon Jovi and his band out of China. Can this be war?
It is the job of a branch of our military called Space Command to prevent a war in space that no one wants. If you have never heard of Space Command before it is because the U.S. Government wants to keep it a secret. What they do you cannot see from the naked eye anyway. It is a high stakes game of control over space. The research being done at the Starfire Optical Range in Albuquerque, New Mexico was kept secret for many years. It is a place that comes alive at night when the outer layer of the building drops down and a laser beam shines into the night sky to help a high powered telescope focus in on objects in space.
The Air Force can get a better look at what China is doing in space whizzing by at 17,000 miles per hour. It is part of a complex and mostly secret battle. Space now is the most important thing in warfare now. It assists in remotely powered aircraft and all precision-guided munitions didn’t exist before space. Now we can attack any target on the planet at anytime, anywhere in any weather. Without space we go back to World War II style of fighting. U.S. satellites are no longer safe from attack. Eleven countries including Iran and North Korea now have the ability to launch objects into orbit. Russia and China have been testing new anti-satellite technology.
It is a competition that we all should wish was not occurring but it is. If we are threatened from outer space, we have the right to self- defense. All countries agree with that. Too bad they can’t agree on trust and prosperity for all. Space Command has 38,000 airmen and 134 locations around the world. One of their most important jobs is to make sure that satellites can get into space. An important Launchpad is located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. If you can’t get the satellite into space, it is worthless. The United States has more satellites in space than any other nation. Over 500 and counting. More than 30 military and civilian launches will take place this year at Space Command centers in Florida and California.
The Pentagon says it spends $10 Billion dollars on space each year. It is more like $25 Billion dollars when you count spy satellites and other classified spending. Do we really need to look at other people that much? We all feel safer to be on the side with the most stuff. Yes we use them to send smart bombs to ISIS and Syria but we also use the technology to provide signals to your Smart phones of GPS and navigation that we all rely on for directions to anywhere. Gone are those large fold able road maps you bought at gas stations years ago. It is a service the Air Force provides to us for free not only to us here in the United States but to the entire world.
Making satellites is a big task because they have to make something that can go into orbit and run for 12 to 15 years that you can’t take into a shop for repairs or refueling and has to run all the time. In orbit it will spread out its solar panels and point its antennae’s towards the earth and broadcast its location with a time signal with extreme accuracy. America has 31 active GPS satellites in orbit right now and a lot more than smart bombs and phones depend on them. Bank ATM’s and cell phone towers and power grids use the signals. The GPS system that the entire world depends on is operated out of Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. Only 8 people operate the system and some of them are as young as 19 years old.
There is no way to hide a satellite in space. The main challenge is to keep them safe. There is a global network of radars, telescopes, and satellite communication antennae’s watching everything at all times. Most of the time they are tracking debris or junk already orbiting in space that could interfere with a satellites orbit. Yes human have polluted space too by now. The Command Center in Vandenburg keeps tract of the trash in space too. The movie Gravity showed the damaging effect trash in space could have on the International Space Station. Dead satellites, old rocket boasters and even stray space gloves are being tracked daily. Last year the Space Station had to be moved 3 times to avoid a collision with space trash.
Three thousand pieces of trash exists from the Chinese in 2007 when they tested a ground based anti-satellite weapon that crashed into one of their old weather satellites 530 miles above the earth. It as a wake- up call to America about the capabilities from China and about the destruction of the space environment. Yes space pollution. They continue to conduct irresponsible tests today and are launching even deeper into space beyond our satellites making them vulnerable from yet another angle. So be proud of your country to know while you are sleeping there is an army of fellow Americans keeping you safe and current from space.