Currently, only two systems in the world have the necessary network of ground-based sensors and computational capability to carry out this task. One, the Space Surveillance Network (SSN), is operated by the United States under the control of the U.S. Space Command; the other, the Space Surveillance System (SSS), is operated by the Russian military (see Box 2-1). The primary purpose of each system is to detect objects that present a military threat; thus, although each is capable of detecting certain types of debris, neither system is optimized to perform the task of maintaining a debris catalog.
BOX 2-1 The Russian and U.S. Space Surveillance Systems
Figure 2-1 displays the location of the sensors of the Russian and U.S. space surveillance systems.
The Russian Space Surveillance System (SSS) has a primary data acquisition system that includes 10 radars (operating in either UHF [ultrahigh frequency], VHF [very high frequency], or C-band) and 12 optical and electro-optical facilities. The radars are used to track objects in lower orbits; the optical and electro-optical facilities are used only for tracking objects in high orbits. Additional sensors may be used occasionally for important tasks and experiments. The lack of a worldwide network of sensors results in some major breaks in observation and some zones in which space objects cannot be observed.
Data from the sensors (approximately 50,000 measurements per day) are transmitted to the Russian Space Surveillance Center, where they are processed, and the space object catalog is updated and replenished. The Russian Space Surveillance Center also identifies detected objects, updates space object orbital elements and calculates orbital elements sets for new observations, plans future observations, determines orbital lifetimes, and provides information to other space programs (Batyr et al., 1993; Batyr et al., 1994).
The U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN) consists of more than 20 radar and optical sensors, most of which are not dedicated to space surveillance and are tasked on an ''as-needed" basis. In general, radars are used to track objects in low-altitude orbits and optical sensors are used for high-altitude detection; some radars, however, are deep-space sensors capable of detecting objects in GEO. Although many of the SSN's sensors are located within the continental U.S., others are spread out longitudinally.
Data from the network are fed to the U.S. Space Control Center, which processes the data and maintains a catalog of space objects. Orbital element sets are transmitted back to the sensors to allow them to continue tracking detected objects and are also made available to selected satellite operators and space system users. The Space Control Center also processes space object breakup data and performs collision warning for some space activities, such as launches and U.S. Space Shuttle operations in orbit.