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International Scientific Community Renews Call to Make Military Satellite Data Available

By | February 20, 2013

      Tags: Military Satellite, Near-Earth Asteroids
      Publication Date: 02/19/2013

      Trace left by the meteor that blasted over the city of Chelyabinsk near the Ural Mountains in Russia on Feb. 15.
      Image credit: Alex Alishevskikh

      For several years now, data collected by U.S. military satellites that monitor the Earth’s skies for missile launches has been labeled as classified. In the aftermath of the Russian meteor explosion last week, the international scientific community has renewed the call to make that data available since those same satellites also detect incoming meteoroids.

      The data could help scientists around the world to understand our planet’s possibly hazardous cosmic environment.

      "In the past, these data have been partly withheld from the scientific community. They should be released immediately, while scientists, emergency management officials, and others are trying to understand what has happened, where people might have been hurt, and where valuable meteorites might be found," Clark Chapman from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., said to

      In 2010, the National Research Council released the "Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies" report, which urged the U.S. Department of Defense to release military fireball data to the scientific community to “allow it [the scientific community] to improve understanding of the NEO hazards to Earth."

      Additionally, the report noted that the DoD’s microbarographic sensors and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) Organization also detect such airbursts. The data gathered by this international network’s — called the International Monitoring System — stations is also not available for the scientific community.

      According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the 10 gigabytes of data transmitted daily in near real time by the verification regime of the CTBT, is available to all 183 of its member states. However, the scientific community is only beginning to discover the value of this system for uses beyond the detection of nuclear tests.

      While this data is an unexploited wealth of potential, scientists still believe the U.S. military data is highly necessary to monitor and study meteors entering the atmosphere, and understand our extra-terrestrial environment.

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