How the sequester took down Earth's 'Space Fence'

The Week
Hopefully none of this space junk will collide with anything important...
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Hopefully none of this space junk will collide with anything important...

Don't worry. It's not like there's 21,000 pieces of space junk floating around up there...

Another thing you can blame Congress for: The "Space Fence" — an American radar system that tracks satellites and space junk to keep them from colliding — is scheduled to close later this year, possibly as soon as October, according to an Air Force Space Command memo obtained by Space News.

"This is your notice to begin preparing the sites for closure," the memo said. "A specific list of action items will be provided as soon as it is finalized. A specific date to turn off the mission system has not been established yet, but will be provided to you immediately upon determination."

The shutdown is being blamed on sequestration, the across-the-board cuts that have reduced available funds for everything from the Pentagon to Meals on Wheels. Lawmakers could have prevented those cuts from going into effect by delineating specific, comparable cuts elsewhere in the budget, but Republicans and Democrats never came close to a compromise.

The "fence" is only one of several systems that perform this space junk-monitoring function, but it's an important safeguard against the estimated 21,000 pieces of space debris circling the planet — debris that occasionally winds up on collision courses with satellites and the International Space Station.

Congress has discussed building a new, updated version of the fence... though that effort (and pretty much everything else) is on hold while lawmakers toy with shutting down the government altogether.

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