The Sequester Is Limiting Our Protection From Extraterrestrial Threats

National Journal
Brian Resnick
Aug. 13, 2013, 10:13 a.m.

For­get cut­backs on bath­room clean­ings at na­tion­al parks or the fur­lough of thou­sands of gov­ern­ment work­ers. Per­haps the greatest vul­ner­ab­il­ity the se­quester has opened up is the threat of ex­tra­ter­restri­al de­struc­tion.

That’s right. This week, the Air Force an­nounced that it is pre­pared to shut down its Space Sur­veil­lance Sys­tem come Oc­to­ber as it seeks to com­ply with se­quester cuts in its 2014 budget. Ac­cord­ing to the press re­lease, the Air Force will save $14 mil­lion a year from cut­ting a pro­gram that uses radar to de­tect met­eors en­ter­ing the at­mo­sphere, such as the one that in­jured 1,000 in Rus­sia in Feb­ru­ary, or debris that can dam­age our satel­lite sys­tems. The news site Mil­it­ary.com says the sys­tem has the cap­ab­il­ity “to loc­ate threats as small as a bas­ket­ball.” So we can as­sume it could also de­tect an in­com­ing ali­en space­craft.

At this point in the end-of-the-world movie, the Jeff Gold­blum char­ac­ter would rush to the gen­er­al’s or pres­id­ent’s of­fice, shout­ing emo­tion­ally that we can’t ig­nore the chance that de­struc­tion will rain down from out­er space. (In typ­ic­al fash­ion, the gen­er­al or pres­id­ent would flip­pantly point to the na­tion’s nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al to solve any space-re­lated prob­lem.) After all, Mil­it­ary.com re­ports that last year the Air Force called the pro­gram “a crit­ic­al de­fense sys­tem [that] shall be manned on a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year basis.”

But the Air Force backs down from that as­sess­ment in Tues­day’s re­lease, say­ing the space mon­it­or is an aging sys­tem with an “in­her­ent in­ac­cur­acy,” and that it is just one of many space-mon­it­or­ing pro­grams. (Ac­cord­ing to Space News, it ac­counts for 40 per­cent of the Air Force’s space mon­it­or­ing.)

The AFSSS, which has been op­er­a­tion­al since 1961, is just one part of AF­SPC’s glob­al Space Sur­veil­lance Net­work. The sys­tem is de­signed to trans­mit a “fence” of radar en­ergy ver­tic­ally in­to space to de­tect all ob­jects in­ter­sect­ing that fence. The op­er­a­tion­al ad­vant­age of the AFSSS is its abil­ity to de­tect ob­jects in an un-cued fash­ion, rather than track­ing ob­jects based on pre­vi­ous in­form­a­tion. The dis­ad­vant­age is the in­her­ent in­ac­cur­acy of the data, based on its dated design.

To cope with the shut­down, the Air Force is look­ing to ramp up oth­er com­pon­ents of its space-mon­it­or­ing ap­par­at­us. And new space-mon­it­or­ing tech­no­logy is on the ho­ri­zon. A new­fangled “Space Fence” is un­der de­vel­op­ment by Ray­theon and Lock­heed Mar­tin (and sup­posed to be in use by 2017), but the Air Force has yet to award the con­tract. Once in place, that sys­tem will be able to mon­it­or 200,000 ob­jects in space, ac­cord­ing to Ray­theon press ma­ter­i­als. The cur­rent sys­tem can mon­it­or about 20,000.

What We're Following See More »
HEADED TO PRESIDENT’S DESK
Trade Bill Would Ban Imports Made with Slave Labor
23 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

“A bill headed for President Barack Obama this week includes a provision that would ban U.S. imports of fish caught by slaves in Southeast Asia, gold mined by children in Africa and garments sewn by abused women in Bangladesh, closing a loophole in an 85-year-old tariff law.” The Senate approved the bill, which would also ban Internet taxes and overhaul trade laws, by a vote of 75-20. It now goes to President Obama.

Source:
TRUMP UP TO 44%
Sanders Closes to Within Seven Nationally in New Poll
36 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Bernie Sanders has closed to within seven points of Hillary Clinton in a new Morning Consult survey. Clinton leads 46%-39%. Consistent with the New Hampshire voting results, Clinton does best with retirees, while Sanders leads by 20 percentage points among those under 30. On the Republican side, Donald Trump is far ahead with 44% support. Trailing by a huge margin are Ted Cruz (17%), Ben Carson (10%) and Marco Rubio (10%).

Source:
LEGACY PLAY
Sanders and Clinton Spar Over … President Obama
12 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”

THE 1%
Sanders’s Appeals to Minorities Still Filtered Through Wall Street Talk
13 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”

DIRECT APPEAL TO MINORITIES, WOMEN
Clinton Already Pivoting Her Messaging
13 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.

×