NASA and the Space Force are joining together to use their respective situational awareness capabilities to help the civil space agency better detect, track and protect against objects in space, Administrator Jim Bridenstine said May 5.
Speaking at a teleconference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bridenstine said that NASA’s planetary defense coordination office is following a 2005 directive from Congress to detect and track 90 percent of near-Earth objects that are over 140 meters, or 460 feet, large.
“Of the 90 percent, we believe there’s something around 25,000 (objects), … We have found about 40 percent of those so far,” Bridenstine said. “We need ot make some investments as an agency into our ability to detect and characterize these objects.”
NASA can use space-based telescopes for early object detection, and then Earth-based telescopes to keep tracking those objects to ensure they don’t enter a collision path toward Earth, he noted. The Space Force will bring cislunar space situational awareness capabilities to help NASA better inform its data models and help scientists track objects coming from much further away, he added.
NASA has already detected and is actively tracking an asteroid dubbed 99942 Apophis, that is expected to cruise harmlessly by Earth in 2029, but closely enough to fly under some U.S. satellites in Geostationary Orbit (GEO), Bridenstine said. “In fact, the gravity of it could displace some of those satellites … but the good thing is we have the ability to detect that object, and track and characterize it.”