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DARPA SpaceView enlists amateur astronomers

The SpaceView program will reach out to amateur astronomers in an effort to protect satellites from space junk orbiting the Earth.

DARPA today announced a new approach to tracking the increasing population of space debris: crowdsourcing.

The SpaceView program will reach out to amateur astronomers in helping to protect satellites from what NASA estimates is more than 500,000 pieces of hazardous space debris orbiting the Earth. It's a low-cost way to both improve the scope of the space coverage and better protect assets in space, some of which are satellites providing mission-critical combat support.

Decomissioned satellites, spent rocket stages, aluminum oxide slag, and lost tools make up some of the half million pieces of debris -- and the Space Surveillance Network is only capable of actively tracking about 30,000 of these at a time. Upgrading the network is difficult and expensive, NASA says, and DARPA has come up with an idea to gather data from space hobbyists.

The Space Surveillance Network (SSN), a U.S. Air Force program charged with detecting and cataloging space objects, says it wants to diversify its data collection by purchasing remote access to telescopes already in use, and providing capable "high-quality astronomical hardware" to a select few located in the right geographic locations.

By crowdsourcing the work of looking into the sky, the SpaceView program will take advantage of the thousands of amateur astronomers focused on space, providing what will hopefully be more diverse data from different geographic locations for a better understanding of space.

In the first phase of the program, the SpaceView team will evaluate options for commercial off-the-shelf telescopes to determine which capabilities are best suited to the task. The program is open for signups right now at