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Australia, USA vow to clean up outer space
November 8, 2010
6:59 am
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rath
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AUSTRALIA and the United States have agreed to clean up the biggest back yard of all - outer space.

According to details of this morning's Ausmin meeting with US officials, there are more than half a million pieces of space junk floating around in middle and inner orbit, posing a threat to our satellite communications and space travel.

And we put it there.

At a meeting in Melbourne with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Minister Stephen Smith agreed something had to be done.

From January details will be hammered out on a surveillance system to track the junk posing a threat, and the two countries agreed to efforts "to prevent long-lived debris-creating behaviour".

"Currently there are an estimated 500,000 pieces of space debris of 1 centimetre diameter or larger in orbit around the Earth. Such debris is capable of damaging or destroying satellites and space vehicles, and harming human spaceflight," a statement from the meeting said.

"Space is becoming increasingly congested due to the debris from over 50 years of space activities. This increase the risk from accidental collisions, such as the 2009 destruction of a US Iridium communications satellite from a collision with a defunct Russian satellite, which created further debris.

"Debris can also result from deliberate actions such as the 2007 Chinese Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, which added over 6000 pieces of orbiting debris."

The US Space Surveillance Network (SSN) is the principal system used to detect, track and identify objects orbiting earth.

"Currently just over 16,000 objects are being tracked, ranging from large objects like the International Space Station and satellites, down to small pieces of debris of approximately 10 cm in diameter."

To boost this effort Australia has agreed to a Space Situational Awareness Partnership, which could include development of a joint tracking facility, likely to be in Western Australia, and to develop trained space specialists within our own department of Defence.

Secretary Gates would not be drawn on the details of the plan, saying the discussions would begin in January.

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