Adaptive Optics for Space Debris Tracking and Pushing

For many decades, satellites have been launched into orbit. This has left many objects in orbit that are now unusable. These objects are called space debris and they threaten to collide with and destroy our functioning satellite networks. That is why we need to find ways to prevent collisions of space debris and stop its accumulation.

Objectives

The aim of the project is to develop new technologies to prevent collisions of space debris. A solution needs to be found that –in contrast to space missions- works from ground and is therefore cheaper to develop and potentially applicable globally.

Activities

Laser light can be used from ground to have an immediate effect on objects in lower Earth orbits. The resulting force from the incident light alters the object’s orbit. We are therefore building a system that aims a laser through a telescope at the space debris.

Laser light traveling through the atmosphere, however, gets distorted. That is why we are building an adaptive optics system, that measures those distortions and pre-compensates for them. That way, the laser light arrives undistorted at the object and sufficient energy is transferred to change its orbit.

Outcomes

An adaptive optics system is being designed in the AITC and will be installed on the EOS’ telescope facility on Mount Stromlo, Canberra, Australia. The system will act as a demonstrator to show the potential of a laser system from ground to prevent collisions of space debris in lower Earth orbits.

Relevant publications

  • Grosse, D. et al. 'Adaptive Optics for Satellite Imaging and Earth Based Space Debris Manoeuvres.' in 7th European Conference on Space Debris, 2017, published by ESA Space Debris Office.
  • Grosse, D. et al. 'Space Debris Manoeuvre with Adaptive Optics Using a Ground-based Telescope.' Proceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC. International Astronautical Federation, IAF, 2017.
  • Zovaro, A. et al. 'Harnessing Adaptive Optics for Space Debris Collision Mitigation.' Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference. 2016.

Partnerships

Engineers and Scientists within the Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre (AITC) have partnered up with the co-operative Research Centre for Space Environment (SERC) to deliver this project.  SERC is a collaboration between government agencies, universities and space industry professionals from Australia, USA and Japan. Other partners of the centre are Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Electro-Optic Systems (EOS), Optus, the National Institute of Information and Communications (NICT) in Japan and Lockheed Martin in the US