DoD can tune space surveillance equipment to detect Chinese spy balloons


In the aftermath of the Chinese balloon being shot down on February 4, agencies are asking questions about how to do better surveillance at this altitude. The FAA heavily regulates the commercial airspace and the military surveills higher altitudes, but “that section of the higher atmosphere was not getting much attention”. Even large objects are hard to track at that altitude with radar, so the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) must alter its tracking methods.

An option to get more surveillance in this space is to tune the miliatry space sensors to include the upper layers of the atmosphere. Using tools that are used for space domain awareness can be tuned to perform surveillance in the stratosphere, instead of tools used for lower airspace. The military has a a collection of sensors called the Space Surveillance Network, which was originally used to detect ballistic missiles, but can also be used to detect balloons. However, even though this infrastructure exists, altering the parameters to include slow-moving objects might cause a lot of false positives and interfere with the air and missile defense missions.

While it is important to track future balloons, if the Space Surveillance Network is to be used, they must find a balance of resources for the sensors so that they can continue to perform for the existing missions that they support.