Air Force puts space situation center into service

Dhe Bundeswehr wants to take a closer look at space in the future. Specialized optical and electronic devices are to monitor satellite traffic more intensively than before in order to observe own, European and international movements in space and to warn of dangers. More and more countries see space as an operating room. In the event of a military confrontation, there would probably also be clashes there. Countries like India and China have proven that they can also reach and shoot satellites with ballistic weapons, and satellites can also be targeted by cyber attacks.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer put an “Air and Space Operations Center”, or ASOC for short, into service on Monday on the Lower Rhine. “The space dimension must be taken into account more in the future,” said the minister during her visit. The largely lawless space, she said, must in future be better regulated by international agreements. The facility near Kalkar under the leadership of the Luftwaffe consists of an existing infrastructure of radar and telescope systems, established and new organizations. The air force’s space observers are currently housed in containers on the site, and a “space operations center” should be ready in spring 2022.

Military technology is used there in cooperation with civil engineering from the German aerospace industry. According to the Bundeswehr, the aim is to protect the critical space infrastructure on which Germany, with its highly networked economy and infrastructure, is “deeply dependent”. Another task of the ASOC is to provide early warning of objects entering the atmosphere – such as satellite debris. This affects not only the operators of the satellites, who can then react with course corrections, but also areas on earth where parts of it can be expected. The re-entry of the Starlink 56 satellite is currently being observed, although it is expected to burn up. The warnings go to regional police stations, which may receive calls from the population if celestial phenomena are observed such as the visible entry and the burning up of an old satellite.

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There are currently around 2000 satellites in space, of which around 200 can be assigned to Germany, civil and military. After large systems were brought into orbit in the early days of space travel, today satellites are hardly larger than a refrigerator and weigh around 200 kilograms. Aviation experts anticipate a strong growth in space traffic in the future, “20,000 to 30,000 satellites in the coming years, according to the commander of the Center for Air Operations, Lieutenant General Klaus Habersetzer. The growing amount of so-called “space junk” poses a threat to your own satellites. These are parts of old systems that travel in space at up to 7 kilometers per second. German radar and optical systems can detect parts from a size of 5 to 10 centimeters in space. American systems, which are ten times more expensive, can capture even smaller parts.

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The Air Operations Center for planning and conducting air operations for both the Air Force and NATO is already located in Kalkar. From there, all aircraft movements, civil and military, are observed. If, for example, air traffic control loses an aircraft from the radar or radio contact is lost, this is where action is taken. If the worst comes to the worst, one of the constantly on standby alarm groups will rise, two Eurofighters each. The Federal Police is also represented in the facility.

Around 1,600 military and civilian employees are employed in Kalkar, 250 of whom come from a total of 24 nations. Around 100 posts have now been added for the new tasks. Most of the structural prerequisites must first be created, investments for around 200 million euros are planned until 2028 in the Paulsberg air defense system and in the von Seydlitz barracks in Kalkar.

The newly configured air and space situation center is to monitor the events in space around the clock, as far as one can from Germany. The possibilities for this are limited, however, because Germany has no overseas territories or bases on which space observation systems could be installed. So it will continue to be heavily dependent on partners, especially the United States of America.