(Washington Times) DARPA seeks amateur astronomers

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), whose mission is to enhance American national security by funding research and technology development projects, has put out a call for amateur astronomers to help protect satellites from dangerous space debris orbiting the earth.

NASA has estimated that there are more than 500,000 pieces of debris including defunct satellites and spacecraft fragments orbiting the earth. Such debris poses a serious problem for manned and unmanned space flight. The massive amount of floating orbital garbage becomes more complex as this debris collides with one another and breaks off into more debris.

As DARPA explains, “A collision between one of these small pieces of debris and a satellite could release more than 20,000 times the energy of a head-on automobile collision at 65 mph.” In turn, DARPA has put out a call for amateur astronomers to assist with a project called SpaceView. This new effort will enable amateur astronomers to assist with a space debris-tracking project.

The plan is to enlist the help of a few good amateur astronomers to catalog and observe space debris objects in hopes of identifying probable collisions. To do this, DARPA’s SpaceView plans to use “amateur astronomers by purchasing remote access to an already in-use telescope or by providing a telescope to selected astronomers.”

DARPA program manager for the project, Lt Col Travis Blake, USAF, explained, “There is an untold amount of potential in the amateur astronomy community that we hope to use to broaden our situational awareness in space.”

“SpaceView should provide more diverse data from different geographic locations to ensure we have a robust understanding of the current and future state of our space assets.”

So if you have an amateur astronomer on your Christmas list this season, you might want to include the link to the program as a stocking stuffer. Interested individuals and night owl astronomers can learn more about the effort and sign up to participate by visiting: www.spaceviewnetwork.com.

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