Space News: U.S. Air Force To Widen Access To Detailed Space Surveillance Data

Revisiting my posts on the Iridium 33/Cosmos 2251 collision and data

The front page article of last week’s Space News (Volume 20, Issue 10, March 9th, 2009) reported that “U.S. Air Force To Widen Access To Detailed Space Surveillance Data” (article quoted in full here). The short story is that:

The U.S. Air Force has agreed to provide wider access to its high-accuracy catalog showing the whereabouts of orbital debris and operational satellites as part of an effort to enable commercial and non-U.S. government satellite operators to better avoid in-orbit collisions, according to U.S. Air Force officials.

The “high-accuracy catalog” would be what I referred to as Special Perturbations (SP) data. The article reiterates the limitations of the Two-Line Elements currently available to the public:

…U.S. Air Force Space Surveillance Network data is published, but only in a form that satellite operators have long said is not useful for space traffic management. This data, called Two-Line Elements (TLEs), has too great a margin of error to permit operators to act.

And says that:

The U.S. Air Force statement suggests that it will furnish more information to the public to enable operators to make a more highly informed decision.

Apparently a policy if forthcoming. The details of the policy are unknown but it should be announced before June.

All this is of course good news and cause for cautious optimism. Why do I say cautious? Here are two quotations from a March 5 roundtable discussion titled Challenges for Space Policy in 2009:

We’re horrible at implementing policy, absolutely horrible.

The problem is not that we have insufficient space policy or a bad space policy, but as we now understand, policy is not self-actualizing. We need to have some other mechanisms that take very sound policy and turn them into action and results.

Let’s hope those mechanisms are in place by June.

While on the topic of the Iridium 33/Cosmos 2251 collision: via Jeff Foust’s spacepolitics.com (good blog, love the tagline) I read that “some have tried to portray last month’s Iridium-Cosmos satellite collision as either a deliberate act by the US or a deliberate act by Russia.” I call bullshit on both of these. The Washington Times editorial is particularly embarrassing in its tin-foil-hattery.

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