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Days before Russia blew up satellite, Georgia Tech partnered with U.S. Space Force

International Space Station, Jan. 11, 2021. (Photo from NASA)

By David Pendered

On Monday, just four days before Russia’s successful test of its anti-satellite missile, Georgia Tech announced a partnership with the U.S. Space Force to collaborate on aerospace research.

Tech and the Space Force signed the deal on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, in a ceremony on Tech’s campus. The event was a propitious moment and makes Tech the 11th university to be named to the U.S. Space Force University Partnership Program. The  next steps include identifying research areas, plus scholarships and mentorships intended to develop the nation’s aerospace workforce.

“Georgia Tech is proud of its longstanding collaborations with NASA and the Department of Defense to help achieve strategic national objectives,” Tech’s executive vice president for research, Chaouki T. Abdallah, said in a statement. “We look forward to charting bold new areas of research with the Space Force and leveraging our expertise in aerospace engineering and national security to address today’s most complex space-based military challenges.”

Four days later, the Russian Federation underscored an aspect of the nature of challenges.

Russia fired from Earth a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile that hit one of Russia’s satellites, according to reports by Space Command and the U.S. State Department. The exercise demonstrated Russia’s capacity to disrupt communications, navigational support and other interests conducted by satellites of several nations.

The Russian Government does not appear to have posted a comment about the incident on its website. An unrelated item dated Monday did appear on the site, indicating the site is active.

The debris field created by the incident poses a significant risk to the International Space Station, other human spaceflight activities and satellites, according to a statement by the U.S. Space Command. More than 1,500 pieces of debris have been tracked and hundreds of thousands of pieces of orbital debris are expected to be created. The junk is expected to be “long-lived” in orbit, according to the State Department.

The State Department condemned the test and said it will seek support from other nations to “develop norms of responsible behavior and to refrain from conducting dangerous and irresponsible destructive tests like those carried out by Russia.” According to the statement:

“The safety and security of all actors seeking to explore and use outer space for peaceful purposes has been carelessly endangered by this test… “The events of Nov. 15, 2021, clearly demonstrate that Russia, despite its claims of opposing the weaponization of outer space, is willing to jeopardize the long-term sustainability of outer space and imperil the exploration and use of outer space by all nations through its reckless and irresponsible behavior.”

The incident speaks to the bipartisan congressional support for the creation of a Space Force, during the Trump administration. The branch was approved with an initial budget of about $40 million as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, approved in December 2019.

The branch is the first to be formed since the Air Force was established, in 1947. The new branch was intended to create a unified command for space-related affairs that had existed in multiple branches. It was to draw personnel from existing ranks.

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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