Home' Army News : November 10th 2011 Contents 26 FEATURES
Army November 10, 2011
Tackling the space menace
SMALL details do matter --
particularly when they're
travelling about 25,000km/h.
When you have 50,000 of
them to deal with in outer space, then
you have a problem.
That's the issue confronting scien-
tists when it comes to protecting an
ever-increasing number of satellites
providing space-borne information to
us earth-bound mortals.
But a recent contract awarded to an
Australian company under Defence's
annual Capability and Technology
Demonstrator (CTD) Program may
have a solution.
Canberra-based EOS Space
Systems Pty Ltd at Mt Stromlo is a
world leader in electro-optic/laser
technology and will research combin-
ing that technology with radar to track
space junk more accurately.
Orbital debris in the near-space
neighbourhood can range in size from
a super-sonic paint speck to a discard-
ed rocket booster the size of a bus --
but they all pose a danger to a space
shuttle, space station or satellite.
The danger of even small space
junk was clearly demonstrated when
the windscreen of a space shuttle was
actually damaged by a speck of paint
EOS Space Systems with Northrop
Grumman International was one
of five projects selected for further
research by the CTD Program.
Having already demonstrated that
laser technology can be used to track
space objects they are now looking at
transforming that technology into an
effective operational tool.
CTD head Alan Hinge said laser
space tracking could provide the sort
of precision that radar alone couldn't
"There are some 20,000 identifi-
able objects in near space, many of
which can cause significant damage
to very expensive satellites and space
vehicles," Dr Hinge said.
"The laser space tracking CTD
could provide precision tracking data
of selected space objects to anticipate
such expensive collisions, resulting in
advice to satellite operators and taking
steps to avoid collision."
It's not just an issue of getting
T-boned by space junk -- satellites are
moved out of the road of debris all the
time -- but that itself is a problem.
The lifespan of a billion-dollar
satellite is reduced every time it is
moved. Communications satellites
orbit about 800km above the earth to
provide optimum coverage.
A space shuttle, space station
and the Hubble telescope orbit about
350km, so you just can't top up a sat-
ellite with fuel. The lifespan is limited
by that finite fuel supply.
By accurately predicting the orbit
and potential collision with space
junk, the lifespan of a satellite can be
increased, and often significantly, by
not having to move it.
It's the sort of technology that
would have been handy when a US
Iridium communications satellite and
a defunct Russian Kosmos satellite
collided with explosive results 800km
above Siberia in 2009.
The satellites were predicted to
cross paths within about 600m. The
Iridium satellite was under control
and could have been moved but no-
one thought it was worth the trouble
-- unfortunately everyone got it wrong.
EOS Space Systems CEO Craig
Smith said it wasn't even the closest
approach on the day.
"They were two big satellites and
the worst thing is they have put thou-
sands of additional space debris in the
same orbit as other satellites in this
popular orbit," Dr Smith said.
Although radar can track a lot of
objects over a wide area, it isn't very
accurate. Laser, however, operating
at light wavelength, is much better at
plotting location and distance.
If electro optic/laser can be inte-
grated effectively with radar on an
operational basis, then the margin of
error will reduce from a football field
or even a couple of kilometres down to
about a metre.
Dr Smith said it was a two-year
project and he was hoping to have the
capability operational by the end.
"That is the intent of the CTD --
to build on the capability we already
have and we've demonstrated already."
Graham McBean takes an in-depth look at high-tech research
that recently received a funding boost from Defence and could have a
significant impact on mankind's outer-space presence.
Eyes on the sky: The EOS Station at Mt Stromlo is part of a major project to track space junk, making the heavens safer for satellites, space stations and manned missions.
CTD PROGRAM REWARDS INNOVATION
THE space tracking initiative is
one of five projects to receive
funding under the Capability and
Technology Demonstrator (CTD)
The CTD is managed by DSTO
and aims to support research
projects likely to contribute to high-
priority Defence capabilities.
This year, 119 submissions were
made under the CTD for access to
the $13m in funding allocated to the
Other projects to receive funding
under the CTD include a project to
integrate light-weight, flexible solar
panels into soldiers' combat equip-
ment as part of an integrated power
system to reduce reliance on bat-
teries. Prototype solar panels were
demonstrated at Russell Offices in
Canberra last month. See page 11
of this edition for more details.
Another project to receive fund-
ing under the CTD is developing
an aircraft buoyancy system, which
could be part of emergency equip-
ment on Army helicopters after
the introduction of the Landing
Helicopter Dock ships.
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