Scientists said they have found a way to detect space debris even during daylight hours. This would potentially help satellites avoid the ever-growing cloud of debris orbiting the planet. The new method is presented in the journal Nature Communications.
Non-working rockets, satellites, and spacecraft parts continue to orbit the Earth after they are out of service. Experts estimate that 500,000 objects are now orbiting the globe. Their sizes range from a propeller to a rocket fuel tank.
Traveling at speeds in excess of 1000 kilometers per hour, they pose a huge and growing collision risk for satellites.
However, using lasers, it is possible to detect this debris from the ground. But until now, this method has only worked for a few hours at dusk, when the detection station on Earth is in the dark and the debris is still illuminated by the Sun.
A team of researchers from Austria is confident that they have managed to expand the time window in which space debris is visible using a combination of a telescopic detector and a special filter. This will increase the contrast of objects as they appear against the sky during the day.
The team also developed a software system for real-time target detection. She predicts when certain objects might be visible and used her observations to hone her accuracy.
Overall, the new technology could increase the time it takes to observe space debris from Earth from six to 22 hours a day.
Michael Steindorfer of the Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences said the technique, while experimental, should significantly reduce the proportion of teams that have to search for space debris using lasers.