Earlier this week Canada sent up a tracking satellite to keep tabs on all the space junk swirling in orbit about earth.
No, it will not track missile launches and no, it will not warn hapless earthlings about the next hunk of frozen rock hurling towards our planet.
But this new satellite, called Sapphire, can figure out probable orbital collisions ahead of time. With that information, valuable civilian or military satellites and so forth might have enough advance warning to move out of the way. Hopefully. Because there seems to be a lot of space garbage up there now that needs to be dodged. NASA has a FAQ on the topic of orbital debris, in case you’re interested.
Here’s the official news release from National Defence and the Canadian Forces.
According to the CBC, U.S. and Canada both supply personnel for the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (Unofficially, Sapphire is said to be about the size of a dishwasher, only “better looking”.)
CBC reports that Canada has contributed personnel to the monitoring program, but this is the first full satellite provided and launched by Canadian Forces. The article spoke with a number of experts related to the effort, including Canadian Major Cameron Lowdon, chief of space situational awareness at JSOC:
“We’re going to be able to walk around here with a bit more pride on our shoulders, I suppose, as Canadians,” Lowdon added.
When I first saw the headline about the launch, my initial question was “Really? Where?”
Here’s the answer, according to a photo caption from AP: “Indian Space Research Organization’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle carrying the Canadian military satellite Sapphire lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh state, India, on Monday”
Sapphire has to undergo a testing phase. Assuming that goes well, DND states Sapphire is “expected to be ready to begin contributing to the network by July, 2013″.
Here’s a NASA animation showing all of Earth’s orbital debris now being tracked: