USAF Perspectives on Leonid Threat and Data Gathering Campaigns

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The Air Force has long recognized the threat posed by the space environment to military satellite systems including the potential for disastrous effects resulting from a meteoroid impact. This concern has steadily elevated with our nation's increasing reliance on space assets for systems critical to national defense. The 1998/1999 Leonid Meteor Storm Operational Monitoring Program was initiated to address this threat. The goal of this Air Force-led, international cooperative program was to provide near real-time Leonid meteor flux measurements to satellite operators. The incorporation of these measurements with model predictions provided an approximate 2-hour lead warning of the peak storm activity, permitting satellite operators ample opportunity to exercise hazard mitigation procedures. As a result, Department of Defense (DoD) and other participating satellite operators may have helped avoid spacecraft damage. The extent of any minor damage to components impossible to detect by operators is difficult to ascertain and may not manifest itself for a period of time. Modest micrometeoroid precipitation may reduce spacecraft life expectancies as a consequence of the physical erosion or sandblasting of exterior surfaces, and damage sustained by electronic systems from concurrent high-energy plasma discharges. Later effects could take the form of premature failure of satellite sensors and other spacecraft components, leading to overall shortening of satellite mission duration. The Air Force intends to pursue further analysis of data and polling of satellite operators to fully assess the Leonid '99 event. Future U.S. Air Force involvement may include support for additional observations and analysis.

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