First, a note about the headline: by “space surveillance,” I mean the act of looking out at space, not the placing of satellites in space to look at us (though, as anyone who reads the papers knows, there’s plenty of that going on). And by “space,” I mean Earth orbit, because apparently that’s just a gigantic junkyard.
There are, currently, an estimated half a million man-made objects in Earth orbit. That figure comes to me from a press release the University of Hawaii sent out on Sept. 11 announcing their support of and participation in the 14th Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference, that took place last week right here on Maui. The conference, which started on Sept. 10, ran through Sept. 13.
“The conference emphasizes Space Situational Awareness (SSA), referring to the ability to view, understand and predict the physical location of natural and manmade objects in orbit around the Earth,” stated the press release. “It’s important to the growing number of military and commercial space assets to avoid collision with the potentially hazardous estimated 500,000 pieces of space junk in orbit.”
And why is this important to Maui (other than how a collision between some ancient Russian beeping basketball and a GPS satellite might foul up our growing dependency on the iPhone’s Turn By Turn driving directions)? Because “space surveillance” is part of the military-industrial complex and that means big bucks for the island!
“AMOS is one of the many events, assets and companies that contribute to a burgeoning aerospace sector in Hawai‘i,” stated the press release. “A 2011 UH study (using 2007 data) estimates that the state’s aerospace sector was at $1.7 billion in 2012, with 30,000 employees. The study defines the aerospace sector as encompassing aviation, astronomy, robotics, certain national security activities, space related technologies and projects, higher education, and multiple other service industries.”
Hmmm–”certain national security activities.” Maybe “space surveillance” really does mean what you think after all…