US Space Force wants to track 'abnormal observables' with unknown origins in Earth's orbit

a person in camouflage sits at a computer screen looking at an animation of several rings around Earth denoting spacecraft orbits
Personnel at the National Space Defense Center at Schreiver Space Force Base provide threat-focused space domain awareness. (Image credit: U.S. Space Force photo by Kathryn Damon)

The U.S. Space Force wants to be able to identify and track mysterious objects in orbit.

The Space Force's Space Training and Readiness Command, or STARCOM, which is tasked with educating and training U.S. Space Force personnel, recently published a document titled "Space Doctrine Publication 3-100, Space Domain Awareness" that outlines what space domain awareness (SDA) is and how to establish and maintain it. In a nutshell, SDA means being able to identify, understand, track and maintain custody of all of the various objects in orbit around Earth

Most of the document describes the need to maintain a safe environment by monitoring and tracking such objects as pieces of space debris, the ever-growing number of commercial satellites, spacecraft operated by adversaries, and "the hazards posed by the space environment and natural debris" such as meteoroids or solar flares.

However, the document goes on to note that operating safely in space also requires "the ability to rapidly identify and respond to threats and hazards, including objects that exhibit abnormal observables and patterns of life and cannot by correlated to any owner or point of origin." So what might these objects be?

Related: US Space Force establishes new unit to track 'threats in orbit'

Most of the time, these are objects launched by other nations. The STARCOM document points out that it is "imperative for the safety of space operations that the United States not only knows where objects and spacecraft are at any given time, but also how they got there, who owns them, their potential capabilities, and their operator's intent."

The publication goes on to outline the many ways this ability can be achieved, including the use of radar systems, infrared and optical sensors, radio frequency monitoring, orbital space weather stations, and by using information produced by the intelligence community. 

A U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center graphic depicting the various categories of sensors used for space situational awareness (e.g., ground-based radars, telescopes, signals intercept antennas, and space-based sensors). (Image credit: National Air and Space Intelligence Center/Justin Weisbarth)

Still, even with the multitude of ways the U.S. Space Force and other organizations keep track of objects in Earth's orbit, recent events demonstrate how some can go unattributed. 

In one example from early 2022, a rogue rocket was seen hurtling toward the moon. While most observers noted the rocket was likely a booster from China's Chang'e 5-T1 lunar mission, China itself denied the claim.

China's reusable space plane has also been observed releasing unknown payloads into orbit as recently as October 2022.

Earlier, in 2014, space tracking stations observed an unknown object alongside three Russian satellites. It was believed to be either an anti-satellite device or an inspector spacecraft, but it ultimately remained unidentified.

In light of these and other developments, the Space Force is attempting to keep a closer eye on what's going on in orbit. In October 2023, Space Force's Space Systems Command selected several private companies to help accelerate the development of new technologies related to space domain awareness, according to SpaceNews.

Earlier this year, United Launch Alliance launched the Space Force's secretive Silent Barker spacecraft, designed to be a "watchdog" over satellites in geosynchronous orbit, the region of space some 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) up that allows spacecraft to remain stationary above fixed points on Earth. 

And in 2022, the Pentagon created AARO, the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, whose mission is to attempt to detect, identify and attribute "anomalous, unidentified space" objects, as well as those in air or water, or those that appear to travel between these domains. So far, the office has found "no credible evidence" that any of these anomalous objects are extraterrestrial in origin.

But despite the need for more awareness of what is in space and who might be operating it, "space domain capabilities for space awareness are still lagging," Space Force's Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman said in April 2023.

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Brett Tingley
Managing Editor,

Brett is curious about emerging aerospace technologies, alternative launch concepts, military space developments and uncrewed aircraft systems. Brett's work has appeared on Scientific American, The War Zone, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett enjoys skywatching throughout the dark skies of the Appalachian mountains.

  • Dave
    For updated information please refer to a bipartisan congressional hearing titled UFO whistleblowers dated July 26th, 2023. Three credible witnesses testified before congress that spacecraft are being observed that defy the laws of physics. Other shocking testimony was also heard. The All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office has an agenda to lie, misdirect and cover-up information. The truth is not revealed to the public. Congressional members are investigating.

    Intelligent lifeforms observing the earth do not wish to be discovered or contacted. Any true evidence is being hidden.
  • billslugg
    I tried tracking down that "defying the laws of physics" thing and in every case I could round up, it was due to movement of the observer with parallax or else superluminal motion.

    No one can prove something is being hidden from them.

    There is only one acceptable standard for proving ET visitation, that is a physical item we can do an isotopic analysis on. Everything else is "flapping gums or fuzzy images".
  • Dave
    Is it possible that the earth is the center of the universe? That the countless number of credible witnesses do not know what they see with their own two eyes? No, it is not possible. The truth is what matters here. Our science is primitive when compared to a more advanced technology. There are literally billions of planets out there in our galaxy. Facts. We are not alone.

    The military and AARO will continue to spin their lies with gullible people believing it. In 1858 a smart person once said, "... you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." Elected officials from congress are investigating. They will get to the bottom of this.
  • billslugg
    The countless numbers of sincere witnessess certainly saw something. But that is not good enough to convince me or any scientist. Why? Because it is not repeatable, on demand, by a disinterested third party. It's the cornerstone of scientific proof. If the observation can't be repeated, you have nothing. Bring a piece of an ET to the table and several independent laboratories can repeatedly verify its extraterrestrial origin with no room for deception.
  • Questioner
    "Mass hallucination" is not a science foundated term.
    It is a term of social dismissal.
    If it were taken seriously governments & corporations would be studying it intensively to utilize it.
    Governments & corporations use social conformity to bury problematic facts.
    We generally like to be soothed by believing authorities have everything in hand.
    When fifty people at Kecksburg & hundreds at Stefenville report extremely nonmundane sightings i wasn't there so i won't trivialize what they recount.
    Real science can't cherry pick data to fit the bias of imagining authorities know all & that they honestly divulge it,
    and that everything will lay down and let one dissect it.
    Real science must accept unsettling facts as well as accept that we always operate on extremely limited & partial data.
    Absolute closure is a psychological desire real science must resist.
    Reality is raw.
    Only happy soothing imaginings are perfect & 'finished'.
  • billslugg
    All of which amounts to a huge pile of excuses as to why these thousands of ET contacts have not resulted in so much as a fingernail clipping or matchbook cover.
  • COLGeek
    Folks, let us focus on the topic and not the tangential discussion. Thank you.
  • COLGeek
    And we are now done here. Thank you to those who stayed on topic.