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Europe keeps a lookout on space garbage

THE European Space Agency has started a program to monitor satellites and space debris and set up uniform standards to prevent future collisions above the planet, an official said yesterday.

The 50-million-euro (US$64 million) program, dubbed Space Situational Awareness, aims to increase information for scientists on the ground about the estimated 13,000 satellites and other man-made bodies orbiting the planet, ESA space debris expert Jean-Francois Kaufeler said.

Last week the collision of two satellites generated space junk that could circle Earth and threaten other satellites for the next 10,000 years.

"What the last accident showed us is that we need to do much more," Kaufeler said. "We need to be receiving much more precise data in order to prevent further collisions of the collision."

The collision occurred 800 kilometers over Siberia and involved a derelict Russian spacecraft designed for military communications and a working satellite owned by US company Iridium, which served businesses as well as the US Defense Department.

A key element of the program is to increase the amount of information shared worldwide between the various space agencies, including NASA and Russia's Roscosmos, Kaufeler said.

Kaufeler also said another aspect that must be examined is establishing international standards on how debris is described, tracked and, if needed, moved so as to prevent any collisions.

US and Russian officials traded shots over who should be blamed for the collision that spewed speeding clouds of debris into space, threatening other unmanned spacecraft in nearby orbits.

No one can be sure how many pieces of debris were generated by the collision or how big they might be. But the crash scattered space junk in orbits 500 to 1,300 kilometers above Earth, according to the Russian military.

Experts in space debris will meet later this week in Vienna at a UN seminar to come up with better ways to prevent future crashes and at the fifth European Conference on Space Debris in March.

"The problem of space debris is unique," said Kaufeler. "We need to work together, we need to unify our forces if we are going to solve it."


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