Orbital estimation and catalogue correlation

The Advanced Instrumentation and Technology centre has been developing leading astronomical instrumentation for many years. More recently, this astronomical focus has contracted to include the region occupied by objects in near-Earth orbit such as satellites and orbital debris. The observation, tracking and cataloguing of these objects form a key part of Space Situational Awareness (SSA).

A significant practical problem facing the SSA discipline is matching the observations of a glowing, sunlit dot travelling across a background of stars against the vast catalogue of known objects and the parameters describing their orbit. Aside from measurement errors within the telescopes and instruments used, the orbit parameters have finite validity and don’t necessarily model all of the forces that act to perturb the trajectory of an object in flight. This effects potentially make it difficult to distinguish between an object being new and potentially unknown to being an established catalogued body that appears slightly removed from where it should be.

The goal of this project is to explore some of the techniques used for orbital estimation (the improvement of a priori orbital parameters) and apply them to sets of observations to correlate the measurements with known objects in the public catalogue. At the conclusion of the project, the student should be able to report on the key features of the various methods published in the literature and demonstrate a functional software module implementing one of the chosen methods.

Skills required

This project requires well developed software skills and familiarity with numerical mathematical methods. The existing code base is written in C/C++ and uses MATLAB for visualisation, so proficiency in these languages is essential. Experience using the Linux operating system would also be beneficial.