Since 2017, members of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Group at the University of Warwick have been conducting research within the field of Space Domain Awareness (SDA). We apply a range of astronomical tools and techniques to help tackle the problems of orbital debris and situational awareness in space.
A growing problem...
Over the past six decades, a population of orbital debris has accumulated in near-Earth space. Abandoned spacecraft, rocket bodies and fragments from explosions and collisions coexist in orbit with the active satellites we rely on. With large constellations of satellites licensed for launch, and vast quantities of debris still invisible to the current generation of surveillance networks, the challenges facing SDA are numerous.
Two regions are of particular concern. Low Earth orbit (LEO) plays host to the most densely populated orbital bands, as well as the International Space Station. Certain parts of the LEO region are thought to be on the cusp of triggering the so-called "Kessler Syndrome", a runaway process whereby a collision generates fragments that seed further collisions, and so on. The geosynchronous (GSO) region, situated at a much higher altitude above the Equator, has a limited number of orbital slots, and is known to contain a population of faint, poorly characterised debris.