- Space junk is a major problem for space agencies and a serious threat to future space missions.
- Researchers have now devised a new way to detect and track space junk in real time during the day using a combination of lasers and specialized imaging devices.
- Estimates suggest that there may be more than 100 million pieces of space debris orbiting our planet.
When you stare into the night sky, you cannot see it, but there is a possibility of orbiting the Earth right now. Pieces of impure satellites, abandoned rocket phases and other man-made debris make our planet like a giant bubble of garbage. It is necessary to understand the safety of the working satellites as well as the crew’s missions and even the threats on the International Space Station to monitor the status of these objects.
As MIT Technology Review Reports, a new technology to track this debris, are providing the ability to spot space junk in broad daylight, rather than within smaller time windows as before.
Laser firing in space is one way scientists track space debris. When the laser hits an object it bounces back, and scientists can detect that reaction and keep a record of the junk as they find it. Unfortunately, this technique does not provide much in the way of accuracy, and it is difficult to pinpoint the location of objects based on laser response only.
To increase the effectiveness of the laser method, scientists peeped into the sky with a lens designed to detect reflections of sunlight from objects. This, however, can only be done during the morning or evening, as full daylight obscures the imaging devices and prevents easy detection and tracking.
In a new paper published in Nature communication, The researchers described how they designed a new method with which to track space junk in broad daylight. He created a special imaging system with filters that allows him to see stars in the blue sky. This in itself is a feat, but all that allows for this is a comparison of reflections from space debris with the stars in the background, as the debris is much brighter in the sky.
“Space debris objects are visualized against a blue sky backdrop and have real-time corrected biases,” the researchers said of their new system. “The results are a starting point for all space debris laser stations to significantly increase their production in the near future. A network of some stations around the world will be able to improve orbital predictions as necessary for removal of missions, combination warnings, avoidance maneuvers or approach scheduling. ”
The tracking of space debris is going to become more and more important as we seek to continue our solar system with probes and even manned missions. Navigating between all the junk already thrown into space will become ever more challenging, but a system like this can make things a little easier.