Mini-satellites could form 'space cop' traffic control system

Jan. 22, 2014 at 5:14 PM

LIVERMORE, Calif., Jan. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they're working on mini-satellites that could function as "space cops" to help avoid collisions in space of satellites and space debris.

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have tested a ground-based satellite to prove it is possible to refine the orbit of another satellite in low Earth orbit.

The Space-Based Telescopes for Actionable Refinement of Ephemeris (STARE) mission will eventually consist of a constellation of nano-satellites in low orbit, intended to refine orbits of satellites and space debris to less than 100 yards, an LLNL release said Wednesday.

"Eventually our satellite will be orbiting and making the same sort of observations to help prevent satellite-on-satellite and satellite-on-debris collisions in space," researcher Lance Simms said of the ground-based test satellite.

In the ground test the Livermore team refined the orbit of the satellite NORAD 27006 and predicted its trajectory to within less than 50 yards over the following 36 hours. The tools and analysis used to refine its orbit are the same ones that will be used during the STARE mission, the researchers said.

The existing Space Surveillance Network can only track the precise location of a low Earth orbit object to within about 2/3 of a mile, a lack of precision that often leads to false collision alarms.

The STARE mission aims to reduce that uncertainty to 100 yards or less, which will in turn reduce the number of false alarms, the Livermore scientists said.

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