New techniques for the detection of space debris.
Aree / Gruppi di ricerca
Partecipanti al progetto
Descrizione del progetto
Space debris consists of artificial objects orbiting around the earth: derelict satellites, rocket bodies and fragments produced by collisions between debris. They accumulate as a result of human space activities: the total mass could amount to ~ 3000 tons and it nearly doubled from 2000 to 2014. These objects travel at speeds up to 10 km/s, fast enough to possibly damage all space vehicles, but especially the International Space Station and spacecrafts with humans aboard.
If the debris is identified and if the eventual encounter is known well in advance, the most successful approach adopted so far is the "avoidance maneuvers". But the great majority of such objects are not catalogued at all and, even if they are catalogued, usually tracking data aren't precise enough or the collision isn't identified in time, with possibly catastrophic consequences. Moreover, most of them have cm-size, that makes the detection even more difficult.
With this project we intend to study the feasibility of space debris detection with comple- mentary techniques: ground-based cameras typically used for meteor and fireball detec- tion, as well as detectors applied in astroparticle physics. We will also investigate the pos- sibility of tracking these objects, with the final goal of de-orbiting them with new challeng- ing methods, such as powerful laser pulses.
Detectors usually applied in astroparticle physics have peculiarities like fast response and high sensitivity, that make them particularly efficient also for space debris identification and tracking. A new generation of space telescopes for the detection of ultra-high energy cos- mic rays is currently under development and could be employed for this purpose. We will start a feasibility study with the TurLab facility of the Physics Department of University of Torino to test the response and the sensitivity of a space detector prototype.
The tracking of debris could be further improved by involving a network of ground-based all-sky cameras, that have a considerably better angular resolution with respect to space telescopes. The primary targets of these cameras are bright meteors, but bright space de- bris can be detected as well. A network of such cameras has been recently established in France (FRIPON project) and extended to Italy (PRISMA project), the goal being to de- velop the most important international network for fireball detection.
In the start-up phase we will study and characterize signals from bright meteors, in order to test the attainability of a combined detection of debris by space and ground-based detec- tors. We will thus develop a strategy for simultaneous observations and data processing. The project could take advantage from the expertise of INAF researchers and local aero- space industries, that will be part of our research team.
The interdisciplinarity of the subject is particularly suitable also to set up dedicated educa- tional path for Secondary High School and could have a great impact on mass media.