Stars to help track space junk

Optical techniques developed to observe and position GEO satellites using telescopes.

London: Soon a method to track geostationary objects, including space debris, could be in place, using the position of the stars.

A team of researchers from the Royal Institute and Observatory of the Navy (ROA) in Spain have developed a technique to 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, reports the journal Advances in Space Research.

By night, the stars appear to move around them, a feature that scientists have taken advantage of 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, according to a ROA statement.

This method was abandoned when satellites started to incorporate transponders (devices that made it possible to locate them using the data from emitted and reflected signals).

However, the classic astrometric techniques are now back in vogue due to the growing problem of space waste, which is partly made up of the remains of satellites engines without active transponders.

"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", said Francisco Javier Montojo who led the study.

The method can be used for directly detecting and monitoring passive objects, such as the space junk in the geostationary ring, where nearly all communication satellites are located.


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