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Nations Join Forces to Track Space Threats

U.S. collaborates with Russia for space surveillance workshop.

October 18, 2012
Cindy Schumacher , The Maui Weekly

During the week of Aug. 27 through 30, American scientists and their Russian counterparts took part in three days of collaboration and friendship at the 9th U.S./Russian Space Surveillance Workshop.

The site of this year's workshop was the beautiful and tranquil setting of Listvyanka, Russia, on the shore of Lake Baikal. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, Lake Baikal is located in southern Siberia between Irkutsk and the Buryat Republic.

Several key persons organized this workshop: U.S. General Chair Dr. Kenneth Seidelmann, U.S. Technical Chair and Maui resident Dr. Kyle T. Alfriend, and Russian Technical Chair Dr. Stanislav Veniaminov.

Article Photos

The 9th U.S. Space Surveillance Workshop was organized and made possible by (left to right) U.S. General Chair Dr. Kenneth Seidelmann, U.S. Technical Chair and Maui resident Dr. Kyle T. Alfriend, Dr. Oleg Aksenov, Russian General Chair Dr. Stanislav Veniaminov and Dr. Boris Shustov.

"Over the past 18 years, a series of eight Space Surveillance Workshops have been held between the U.S. and Russia," said Dr. Seidelmann. "These have focused on sharing information about how each nation has undertaken the task of space observation."

The first U.S.-Russian workshop took place at the Naval Observatory, Washington, D.C., in 1994. After that, the group met every two years in locations such as Poland, Russia, California and Maui.

"We have all gained great insight and appreciation of how each has approached the same basic problems of space surveillance," said Dr. Seidelmann.

This year, the workshop addressed mainly the problem of tracking small satellites in space. Right now, it is relatively cheap and easy to build and launch satellites small enough to hold in your hand, but it is very difficult to track them.

"However, even such small objects are big enough to be a serious hazard to navigation for all other satellites if we do not know accurately where they are," said Dr. Seidelmann. In addition, this workshop heard papers about space weather, satellite formation-flying and detecting radioactive satellites in space.

"With the large increase in space objects and limited budgets, all countries are finding they cannot do everything required to keep space safe by themselves," he said. "So there is an extra need for these workshops now and in the future."

"The continuing goal for space-faring countries is to share space situational awareness information by promoting space flight safety through open collaboration and constructive partnerships," said Dr. Alfriend. "Both countries benefit from presentations to better aid the understanding of the current state in space, and much of the work at hand is co-authored by both Russians and Americans."

"This workshop demanded a great deal of effort from many people," said Dr. Veniaminov. "Despite many obstacles and difficulties preparing it, a number of known experts are present here and they represent a wide spectrum of leading scientific organizations."

Dr. Boris Shustov of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) gave the workshop a global perspective, saying, "Life and human civilization on Earth exist in the environment of cosmic threat."

"While planetary impacts are rare, their consequences can be very serious for humankind," said Dr. Shustov. Currently the chairman of the Expert Group on Space Threats at the Space Council, RAS, Dr. Shustov advocates coordinating the surveillance of Earth satellites with the search for potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids and comets.

"Russia is ready to work on international detection and monitoring," Dr. Shustov said. "We are working on the construction of new optical instruments for massive discovery of near-Earth orbits. We are also further establishing the national information center responsible for collecting and analyzing observation data from Russian observatories."

"Through these workshops, the U.S. and Russia are able to collaborate on solutions," he said.

Former Maui resident and current workshop member Dr. Tamara Payne of Applied Optimization Inc. agrees with Dr. Shustov's call for international collaboration. "I believe that international cooperation and collaboration in space surveillance is crucial to maintaining a safe operating environment for man-made objects in space and thus ensuring that our civilization thrives," she said.

The opportunity to share her research in satellite photometry, the measurement of changes in the brightness of objects in space, with Russian scientists was a memorable exchange, according to Dr. Payne.

Payne also noted that, "not only the global community is dependent on space systems. Our local communities also use space-based technology every day, even if we don't realize it."

"So, it is critical that we adhere to international guidelines on the use of space," she said. "Because governments are burdened with bureaucracy and the ways of the past, it falls on the scientists and researchers to make sure that collaboration will continue."

"We cannot conduct our workshop without interpreters," said Dr. Veniaminov. Russian translators Alexandra Kaplunenko and Anna Tomysheva took turns translating both the English and Russian presentations. "They did an incredible job helping the participants cross the boundaries of language and cultures," he said.

"I have a dream," Dr. Veniaminov stated during the workshop. "My dream is that one day an American participant of our workshop would make his entire presentation in Russian."

Minutes later, Dr. Veniaminov's dream was answered in part by new contributor Dr. Darren Garber, U.S. aerospace consultant. "I minored in Russian language in college and was happy that my introduction in Russian was appreciated," Dr. Garber said.

It was an especially good moment for international relations.

The workshop concluded with a banquet for representatives of the world's two leading space-faring nations, their families and two representatives from the European Space Agency. All around the table the sentiment was repeated: "What matters most are the relationships and cooperation formed across cultural barriers."



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