Scientists Spot Spacecraft with Laser in Broad Daylight


The computer image shows the distribution of space debris in orbit around the Earth.

The computer image shows the distribution of space debris in orbit around the Earth.
The image: Esa

Our ability to efficiently detect space debris has taken a significant leap forward, thanks to a new technology in which lasers can find these potential locations Dangerous items during daylight.

Researcher of Space Research Institute A technique has been developed at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in which the laser can measure the state of space debris under daytime conditions. Details of this unprecedented achievement were Published In nature communication.

Previously, lasers could only detect space junk during twilight, as ground stations enter the darkness and Objects near the horizon are illuminated by the sun’s rays. This small window of opportunity severely reduces the amount of time available to discover and characterize these orbits. Objects that could endanger critical satellites.

“We are accustomed to the idea that you can only see stars at night, and this is equally true for viewing debris with the telescope, except for a very small time window to observe objects of low orbit, “ESA chief Tim Flohr explained. Space Debris Office, at an ESA Press release. “Using this new technology, it will be possible to track previously ‘invisible’ objects that had lurked in the blue sky, meaning we can work all day to support laser-avoidance collision . “

A visible green laser flashes from ESA's Optical Ground Station (OGS).

A visible green laser flashes from ESA’s Optical Ground Station (OGS).
The image: IAC – Daniel Lopez

In fact, it is important that we document as much space junk as possible to minimize collisions in space. One an estimate 34,000 objects larger than 3.9 inches (10 cm) are currently in orbit around the Earth Millions Such as tinier objects such as bits of spacecraft, paint chips, rocket parts, and other missing or lost flotsam and jetsam. Even objects measuring a few millimeters can pose a threat to satellites and spacecraft, as speeds in low Earth orbit can reach up to 6 miles per second (10 km / s).

Radar can track objects larger than 3.9 inches but Not good It’s enough Management Space traffic, according to For Space Research Institute Press release. Lasers, on the other hand, can track objects of the same size much more accurately, Close to an accuracy Service 1 meter. The system works by bouncing and recieving lasers in space. Reflected signal at ground stations, Allows scientists to determine distances.

The new technology differs from traditional methods in that it can track objects during daylight, which it uses a combination of telescopes, light deflectors, and track light at specific wavelengths. So even when the sky is bright and blue, scientists can increase the contrast of a target, making previously invisible objects visible. The key to this method includes additional binoculars And the ability to visualize space debris against a backdrop of blue sky in real time.

Distance in daylight checkup The new technology measured 40 different objects, which had never been done before.

“We expect these results to significantly increase debris observation time in the near future,” said Michael Stindorfer from the Austrian Academy of Sciences in an ESA press release. “Ultimately it means that we have to know the debris population better, allowing us to better protect Europe’s space structure.”

Looking ahead to the future, the wide-scale implementation of this method will include several ground stations located at strategic locations around the planet. This strategy can be complemented Sensible and enforceable policies To reduce the amount of debris in low Earth orbit, which is sad, Is severely lacking.

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