Space junk-tracking Air Force telescope sits atop a Maui volcano

Usually, having to go to work on the top of a volcano wouldn't be an entirely exciting prospect, even if it's located on the sunny shores of a Hawaiian island.

Not that that even matters at 10,000 feet above sea level (the distance between tropical weather and the biting windy 20 mph cold breezes circling the Maui Space Surveillance Complex), one of three Air Force Space Command sites tasked with tracking wandering space objects.

Situated right on top of the dormant Mount Haleakala, MSSC is part of the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep-Space Surveillance network (GEODSS) responsible for keeping tabs on errant space debris, comprised of anything from lost satellites to spent rocket capsules. Capable of tracking basketball-size objects from over 20,000 miles away in space, MSSC makes sure the objects don't stray too far and crash into each other, which could have disastrous consequences.

The amount of "space junk" has increased exponentially since we first landed on the moon decades ago, from a few thousand wayward pieces to an estimated 500,000 unused objects, and the number increases with each passing day. Current technology only has the ability to track 23,000 at a time, so tracking space debris is becoming even more difficult.

Yet combined with two other locations in New Mexico and in the Indian Ocean, the debris-monitoring sites have the ability to account for almost 80 percent of Earth's geosynchronous orbital belt, making it an indispensable resource to the Air Force. The technology used in each of the complex's telescopes relies on the refraction of sunlight, so it can only be used on sunny days — making Mount Haleakala the perfect location, as it is situated above light-absorbing clouds. Sure, the temperature can sometimes plummet to below-freezing, but hey, it's all in part of the work.

Airman, via Sploid (Gizmodo)

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook