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Fiery Death from the Heavens?

The week of April 28th, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) highlighted its supercomputers in what they call “Supercomputing Week 2011” (ECHO, Echo, echo).

NNSA’s three national laboratories house some of the world’s fastest supercomputers: Roadrunner, Cielo, BlueGene/L, Dawn/Sequoia, and RedStorm. I was intrigued when I came across an article on a recent project preformed by the Advances Simulation and Computing (ASC) program that modeled space debris. Do we really have that much junk up there that we can model it?

Over two years ago, a defunct Russian satellite and a privately owned American communications satellite collided near the North Pole. The incident produced clouds of debris that quickly joined the orbital parade of junk that includes hundreds of active and inactive satellites, bits of booster rockets, and even lost astronaut tools from the more than 80 countries that have joined the space community. Needless to say, we are running out of space in this orbital… well, space.

Russian satellite and a privately owned American communications satellite that collided near the North Pole

Russian satellite and a privately owned American communications satellite that collided near the North Pole

As a child, I always thought a great solution to dumps here on Earth would be to launch it into space. Childish, I know. Yet, it appears that 50 years of launching “stuff” into orbit adds up. Various nations have already collectively polluted space, without ever purposely firing a single one of my ill-conceived “trash-hauling” or “dump-truck” rockets. The NNSA, Sandia National Laboratory (SNL), and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have put together a team of computational physics and engineering experts to better understand the impact of such space debris.

Will old junk in slow-decaying orbits someday rain down fiery molten balls of metal? It appears that we shall soon know. A crack crew of scientists and engineers has developed the Testbed for Space Situational Awareness (TESSA). It is designed to enable them to simulate the position of objects in orbit and detect objects by telescope and radar systems, helping to prevent a space disaster (a.k.a., a fiery death from above).

This geek truly hopes that his first trip into space isn’t reminiscent of a trip to the dump with his father or, maybe I do. I always did find some pretty cool stuff to geek out on there! Heck, I even have colleagues who still go “dumpster diving.”

Sandia National Laboratory, Roadrunner, Cielo, Military, National Nuclear Security Administration, NNSA, RedStorm, Aerospace, Mentor Graphics, Geek,, IBM, Mil-Aero, Electronic, Milaero, LLNL, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Mentor, Sequoia, Testbed for Space Situational Awareness (TESSA), SNL, TESSA

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