Scientists have discovered a way to detect space debris that threatens active satellites in broad daylight, which could facilitate space surveillance, according to a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications.
Nearly 9,000 satellites have been placed in orbit since 1957 and some 23,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters, according to US military data, orbit the Earth at more than 20,000 km / h. At this speed, any collision can destroy the satellite and generate more debris.
This debris comes in particular from pieces of rockets and two events: the destruction by China of one of its satellites by a missile in 2007 and the collision between a Russian military satellite and a communications satellite in 2009.
The problem will only get worse: the launches will multiply to place constellations in orbit.
From optical observation stations on the ground, it is possible to detect space debris by laser ranging. But this technique is only valid for a few hours at dusk, when the detection station on Earth is in darkness, but the debris is still lit by the Sun.
A team of researchers based in Austria announces that they have succeeded in extending this observation window by using the combination of a telescope, a detector and a filter to increase the contrast between objects and the sky.
According to the study, thanks to this new technique, still at the experimental stage, it would be possible to monitor space debris 22 hours a day, compared to six currently.
This would contribute “significantly to future space debris removal missions or to the improvement of orbital forecasts in the event of a (collision) warning,” Michael Steindorfer of the Institute for Space Research in France told AFP. the Austrian Academy of Sciences, co-author of the study.