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JSpOC intergral to Burnt Frost success

VANDENBERG AFB, Calif. -- A non-functioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite was successfully intercepted Feb. 20, achieving the objective of destroying the hydrazine tank. 

In order to keep track of the satellite during Operation Burnt Frost, the U.S. government turned to the Joint Space Operations Center here. 

Tracking more than 18,000 objects that are in orbit at any time, the JSpOC crew had the expertise required for mission success, said Col. Stephen Whiting, director of the JSpOC here. 

"Any time there's an activity that has to do with man-made objects in space, we're involved with that," Colonel Whiting said. "From tracking objects, to making sure they can operate safely, to making sure that active satellites on orbit don't inadvertently run into some of this debris that's up there, we're involved in all those operations. It's just part of our mission day to day." 

For this particular mission they provided command and control for the global network of sensors known as the Space Surveillance Network to track the satellite's movements. The JSpOC also assessed the solar environment's effects on the Earth's atmosphere, which impacts how a satellite's orbit decays. All of the information gathered was then shared with each agency involved in the operation. 

Using this information, a single modified tactical Standard Missile-3 was fired from the USS Lake Erie, achieving the objective of destroying the satellite's hydrazine tank. 

"By all accounts this was a successful mission," said Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "From the debris analysis, we have a high degree of confidence the satellite's fuel tank was destroyed and the hydrazine has been dissipated." 

Even though the interception of the satellite was successfully completed, the JSpOC's job is not done; the center is still closely tracking approximately 150 pieces, each no larger than a football. 

"The JSpOC retains the post-event responsibility of detecting, tracking and identifying all man-made objects created by this event," Colonel Whiting said. "A majority of the pieces are expected to enter the Earth's atmosphere in the coming days and weeks." 

The remaining debris is of such a size and composition that they are unlikely to survive the fall through Earth's atmosphere, meaning they will not impact the ground, he said. 

With Operation Burnt Frost behind them and their continual mission ahead, the colonel said he is proud of everyone involved. 

"It was very well rehearsed and everyone knew their task, from our lowest ranking Airman to our most senior ranking general officer," Colonel Whiting said. "It's just rewarding to see people work hard and to see the mission get executed as planned."