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Space-Based Optical Observations of Space Debris

  • Authors: Flohrer, T.; Peltonen, J.; Kramer, A.; Eronen, T.; Kuusela, J.; Riihonen, E.; Schildknecht, T.; Stöveken, E.; Valtonen, E.; Wokke, F.; Flury, W.
  • Publication: Proceedings of the 4th European Conference on Space Debris (ESA SP-587). 18-20 April 2005, ESA/ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany. Editor: D. Danesy., p.165, 2005
  • Theoretical study
  • ADS link
  • Abstract: Currently, observations of space debris are mainly performed with ground-based sensors. These sensors have a detection limit at some centimetres diameter for objects in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and at about 2 decimetres diameter for objects in Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO). The few space-based debris observations stem mainly from in-situ measurements and from the

analysis of returned spacecraft surfaces. Both provide mainly information about sub-millimetre-sized debris particles. As a consequence the population of centimetre- and millimetre-sized debris objects remains poorly understood. The development, validation, and improvement of debris reference models drive the need for measurements covering the whole diameter range. In 2003 ESA initiated a study entitled "Space-Based Optical Observation of Space Debri", which was awarded to a team led by Aboa Space research, Finland (ASRO). Besides ASRO, the Astronomical Institute of the University of Bern, Switzerland (AIUB) and the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR) participate in this still ongoing study. The goals of the study are to define the equirements
and to develop the observation strategy for a spacebased instrument capable of observing uncatalogued millimetre-sized debris objects. A system architecture is to be proposed fulfilling the requirements and appropriate for the selected observation strategy. The performance and cost of the designed instrument shall be estimated. Only passive optical observations are considered within this study. Three mission concepts are studied, each concept focusing either on LEO, GEO or GTO (Geostationary Transfer Orbit). Cost-efficient solutions are considered important. Ideally, the proposed solutions shall be capable of determining a full set of orbital parameters for unknown objects. In this paper we summarise the results of the completed study phase 1. Starting with a brief review of debris characteristics, the developed user requirements are summarised. We present promising observation concepts and outline the data processing steps. Options for the instrumentation covering telescope and camera design, as well as options for the onboard processing electronics and the platform are discussed and the main trade-offs are outlined. A short summary on the practical experience gained using ESA’s PROOF tool (Program for Radar and Optical Observation Forecasting) for space-based applications is given.

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