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Laser-Based Space Junk Tracking Site Planned in Australia

Lockheed Martin and Australia-based Electro Optic Systems are partnering up to establish a new laser-based space junk tracking site. Hundreds of thousands of objects, some tiny, some large, float around the Earth, and some occasionally pose a threat to satellites or even (as in "Gravity") the International Space Station. "Radar-based systems have great capabilities for tracking and cataloguing large numbers of objects," explained Lockheed Martin's Matt Kramer in an email to NBC News. "This new site will zoom in on specific objects to provide a richer picture of the debris, including what it might be, what direction it's spinning, and how fast it's travelling."

Lasers have been suggested before as a possible space debris management system — a 2011 proposal from NASA had the system not just tracking objects, but zapping them to to change their orbit. Lockheed's system would just watch, but it could pave the way for more direct intervention. The site would be located in Western Australia, acting as a more powerful complement to another facility on the other side of the continent, and would provide data to both governments and commercial space enterprises.

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—Devin Coldewey