To help control traffic in space, a team of scientists have now developed mini-satellites that work as space cops.
The scientists used a series of six images over a 60-hour period taken from a ground-based satellite to prove that it is possible to refine the orbit of another satellite in low earth orbit.
"Eventually our satellite will be orbiting and making the same sort of observations to help prevent satellite-on-satellite and satellite-on-debris collisions in space," lead author Lance Simms said.
Collisions in space of satellites and space debris have become increasingly problematic.
To help satellite operators prevent collisions in space, the Space-Based Telescopes for Actionable Refinement of Ephemeris (STARE) mission, which will consist of a constellation of nano-satellites in low earth orbit, intends to refine orbits of satellites and space debris to less than 100 meters. STARE is an ongoing LLNL project led by Wim de Vries, with Vincent Riot as lead engineer.
Using the ground-based satellite, the Livermore team refined the orbit of the satellite NORAD 27006, based on the first four observations made within the initial 24 hours, and predicted NORAD's trajectory to within less than 50 meters over the following 36 hours.
By refining the trajectory of NORAD 27006 with their ground-based payload, the team believes they will be able to do the same thing for other satellites and debris once their payload is orbiting earth.
The tools and analysis used to capture the images of NORAD 27006 and refine its orbit are the same ones that will be used during the STARE mission.
The findings are published in the Journal of Small Satellites.