RMIT boffins fast-track space junk search

Got five seconds? That's all you need to spot a flying tin can

NASA graphic of space debris in low Earth orbit. Pic: NASA

Researchers at Australia s RMIT University, working with EOS Space Systems, reckon they can plot the trajectory of space junk with just two five-second samples of the target's trajectory.

EOS has previously proposed using lasers to bump objects in orbit, and is building a joint tracking facility in Western Australia with Lockheed.

NASA estimates there are 500,000 items of debris orbiting earth. Building a tracking system with enough capacity is a key challenge, and that's where the RMIT-led research comes in.

As RMIT explains here, the first round of EOS's tracking technology needed two passes of optical or laser data lasting as long as four minutes to build an orbital model of an object.

The new research is designed to cut the capacity requirements by estimating orbits from very short data samples. Published in Advances in Space Research (abstract here), the researchers reckon instead of one-to-four minutes, they can get an acceptable estimate of an object's orbit from just five seconds of optical and laser tracking.

So long as two-dimensional angles and accurate range data can be captured, the research claims “good orbital predictions”.

As well as James Bennett and Kefei Zhang of RMIT, the study's authors include EOS Space Systems CEO Craig Smith, and J Sang of China's Wuhan University. ®

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