Story at a glance
- The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) demonstrated plans to monitor the space between the Earth and moon past where traditional satellites orbit the planet through its Cislunar Highway Patrol System (CHPS).
- AFRL notes space traffic to the moon is expected to rapidly increase in the coming decades as NASA, countries like China and Russia and several commercial companies are working to send expeditions to the moon.
As the space around Earth becomes increasingly crowded due to the proliferation of satellites and space junk, the U.S. military has plans to expand its ability to identify and track objects to the moon and beyond.
In a recently released video, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) demonstrated plans to monitor the space between the Earth and moon past where traditional satellites orbit the planet through its Cislunar Highway Patrol System (CHPS). Cislunar refers to the space above where satellites orbit Earth, about 22,000 miles above the planet’s surface.
Currently, the Department of Defense tracks and identifies all man made objects orbiting the Earth through a combination of optical and radar sensors. The Space Surveillance Network is tracking tens of thousands of pieces of orbital debris and satellites and is key for mitigating any potential collision risks.
“Until now, the United States space mission extended 22,000 miles above Earth. That was then, this is now,” a narrator in the AFRL video explains.
The video shows a rendering of a rocket launching from Earth and releasing a satellite that travels past the vast network of government and commercial satellites in near-Earth orbit, eventually reaching the moon some 239,000 miles away.
In the video, AFRL notes space traffic to the moon is expected to rapidly increase in the coming decades as NASA, countries like China and Russia and several commercial companies are working to send expeditions to the moon.
NASA’s Artemis missions aim to once again put U.S. astronauts on the lunar surface and eventually establish the first “long-term presence” on the moon. Meanwhile, China has recently partnered with Russia for a series of space missions that include plans to establish a research base on the moon.
Concerns about collisions have been raised over the increasing number of satellites and objects orbiting Earth. Currently, about 27,000 pieces of human-made objects larger than a softball are being tracked as they orbit Earth. Just last week, a discarded piece of a rocket crashed into the far side of the moon after moving through space for several years.
“The U.S. Space Force will ensure the peaceful development of space, keeping our missions safe and secure in these distant frontiers,” the video states.
“The responsible use of space and unfettered access to space domain awareness ensures collision avoidance, on-orbit logistics, communication, navigation and maneuvering, all critical to the United States and allied space commerce, science and exploration.”
Details on the CHPS project are sparse, but ARS Technica reports the AFRL is expected to issue a request for prototype proposals for the satellite next month and announce a contract award in July.
Moriba Jah, who co-founded a company called Privateer with Steve Wozniak and Alex Fielding that aims to develop better tracking of objects in space, told Changing America it’s important the Department of Defense establishes cislunar monitoring to protect commercial interests.
“On the seas you’ve got the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard protects U.S. interest in the seas, even commercial interests, to make sure citizens are safe as they go from one place to the next,” Jah said.
“So I think the Department of Defense does have a role in providing safety to U.S. commercial interests to make sure that they’re not getting hijacked. And to think that that won’t happen is naive, it’s part of what humans do. And if they’ve done them in all the other domains of experience, there’s no reason to think that in space it won’t happen. So of course, something like this needs to be put in place.”
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