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Sketches of the measurement connection sequence in the case of movement. The space accessible by the object is given by the allowed control area. Credit: Advances in space exploration (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.asr.2022.02.034

Researchers from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), the Polytechnic University of Milan and the company GMV have developed a new methodology to detect and evaluate satellite movements that improves the performance of the systems currently in use. This development, which is already being tested in operational environments, could help reduce the problem of space debris.

The number of satellites and pieces of space debris in Earth orbit now stands at about 30,000, according to records from the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, although scientists in the field estimate the actual number to be around 100,000. Any object larger than about one centimeter can cause serious damage in a collision.

The “space debris” leaflets allow satellites to perform maneuvers to avoid potential hazards. However, these same movements that some satellites perform automatically can cause problems, because if not properly detected and planned, they lead to catalog degradation, which in turn increases the risk of collisions.

“The problem is that there are more and more satellite launches and many of them have automatic control capabilities, which are part of constellations of thousands of objects. Therefore, it is very interesting to be able to independently detect these movements in order to monitor the real position of these satellites,” explains the scientist from the Department of Aerospace Engineering UC3M, Guillermo Escribano, one of the authors of this work recently published in the journal. Astronaut minutes.

What these researchers have developed is an algorithm that more efficiently detects and characterizes these satellite movements. To do this, they use data from sensors that monitor the movement of space vehicles (such as telescopes or radars, for example) and combine them with statistical information.


Credit: Carlos III University of Madrid – Scientific Information Office

“The basic idea is to process all these metrics and connect them to items we already have in the catalog,” says Guillermo Escribano. “With this, we can track them, even if the satellites perform movements that we are not aware of,” says one of the researchers, Manuel Sanjurjo Rivo, also from UC3M’s Department of Aeronautical Engineering.

This development could be used to improve the accuracy of existing space object tracking and registration systems, which could help reduce the space debris problem, the researchers said. In fact, the algorithm has already been implemented by the company GMV, where other researchers who are the authors of this paper work, to perform measurements and validation campaigns for space object registration systems.

In this context, it is important not only to have an estimate of the position and velocity of an object in space, but also to properly characterize the uncertainty of these estimates by taking into account the information provided by the tracking sensors or even the controllers of the astronauts themselves.

“According to the type of information obtained from tracking sensors, where the data update time is around 12 hours, knowledge of the dynamics is essential. Handshakes are therefore a challenge for existing automatic connection and evaluation systems due to the lack of reliable information about how an object moves,” says Manuel Sanjurjo Rivo in conclusion Hence the importance of the development proposed in the framework of this study.

Additional works were published in Advances in space exploration.

More information:
Lorenzo Porcelli et al., Detection and estimation of satellite motions using radar measurements, Acta Astronautica (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2022.08.021

G. Escribano et al., Automatic maneuver detection and tracking of space objects in visual reconnaissance scenarios based on stochastic hybrid system synthesis, Advances in space exploration (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.asr.2022.02.034

Diary information:
Acta Astronautica

Provided by Carlos III University of Madrid – Scientific Information Office

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