10/25/2011 09:40 am ET Updated Dec 25, 2011

Space Junk Tracking: Air Force Academy, Colo. Colleges Form Falcon Telescope Network To Observe Space Debris

The Air Force Academy's Center for Space Situational Awareness Research (CSSAR) has been awarded a nearly $800,000 grant to help track space junk that could crash into the International Space Station or satellites, according to the Colorado Springs Business Journal.

Led by the Air Force Academy and partnered with several other Colorado colleges as well as colleges in Chile, the CSSAR will develop the Falcon Telescope Network and cadets will track and study man-made objects that revolve around Earth.

NASA and the U.S. Military have been tracking space junk for decades now. United States Strategic Command (USSC) currently tracks more than 22,000 man-made objects orbiting Earth comprised mostly of inactive satellites, discarded pieces of spacecraft or fragments of the two. But that is just the objects that are 10 centimeters in diameter or larger. According to the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, as of 2009 there were approximately 500,000 particles between 1 and 10 cm and the number of of particles smaller than 1 cm probably exceeds ten of millions.

Francis Chun, one of the principal researches for CSSA, spoke to SatNews about the importance of this kind of research to national security and modern daily life:

Without knowledge of what is in orbit around the Earth, all satellite systems from the International Space Station to GPS and Direct TV satellites will be more vulnerable to collisions and natural space weather hazards. The Air Force routinely tracks over 22,000 objects on a daily to weekly basis, but we believe there are hundreds of thousands of space objects in orbit that are too small for our current sensors to detect. Over time, space will only get more congested as more countries launch satellites and more collisions between space objects occur. All of this will have a negative impact on our lives from banking to weather forecasting to navigating to communicating.

The grant money will allow for the participating colleges to set up a permanent telescope observatory that will be used in the Falcon research project and can also be used for general course work, labs and open houses for all members of the community.

The Denver Post reports that the Colorado network of colleges includes Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Otero Junior College in La Junta and Northeast Junior College in Sterling. In Chile, The University of La Serena and the Mamalluca Observatory are also participating.