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Technique to trace space junk with help of stars developed


May 28, 2011 - Washington

A team of researchers have developed a method to track the movement of geostationary objects using the position of the stars, which could help to monitor space debris.

The technique of researchers from the Royal Institute and Observatory of the Navy (ROA) in Cadiz (Spain) can be used with small telescopes and in places that are not very dark.

Objects or satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) can always be found above the same point on the Equator, meaning that they appear immobile when observed from Earth. By night, the stars appear to move around them, a feature that scientists have taken advantage of for decades in order to work out the orbit of these objects, using images captured by telescopes, as long as these images contain stars to act as a reference point.

"Against this backdrop, we developed optical techniques to precisely observe and position GEO satellites using small and cheap telescopes, and which could be used in places that are not particularly dark, such as cities", Francisco Javier Montojo, a member of the ROA and lead author of the study, told SINC.

The method can be used for directly detecting and monitoring passive objects, such as the space junk in the geostationary ring, where nearly all communications satellites are located. At low orbits (up to around 10,000 km) these remains can be tracked by radar, but above this level the optical technique is more suitable.

The team has created software that can precisely locate the centre of the traces or lines that stars leave in images (due to photograph time exposure).

The study is detailed in the journal Advances in Space Research.

ANI

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