Science: Watching the Action in Orbit

A new eagle-eyed satellite-tracking network takes shape

Ever since Sputnik was rocketed into space nearly 23 years ago, the heavens have become increasingly crowded.

At last count, the U.S. Air Force's North American Air Defense Command, the watchdog of all objects in orbit, listed 4,552 pieces of hardware—ranging in size from a Soviet space station to such bits of space junk as an astronaut's glove, stray cameras, and even nuts and bolts. In the coming years NORAD's job will become still harder. By the mid-1980s, the number of orbital objects may double, making it more difficult to tell what is up,...

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