Numerica telescope tracks satellites in broad daylight
Given how many satellites and bits of orbital debris are now orbiting the Earth, it's becoming increasingly important to keep track of where they all are. A new telescope system allows space agencies and other clients to do so – even in broad daylight.
Developed by Colorado-based company Numerica, the technology is described as being "the first fully-functional, low-cost telescope system that can observe Earth-orbiting satellites in broad daylight at altitudes of more than 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles)."
Two prototypes have already been deployed and tested at sites in Colorado and Australia, where they were reportedly proven to be capable of detecting objects from low-Earth orbit to geosynchronous orbit, both day and night. More are currently being set up at other locations, as part of the broader Numerica Telescope Network.
"Our technology is enabled by high-speed shortwave infrared cameras, customized optics and advanced algorithms," says Jeff Shaddix, Numerica's principle investigator for daytime tracking. "A daytime sky background creates an extreme shot noise environment. We collect 15 GB/minute from our cameras and apply image processing algorithms that fuse the data to reduce the noise to near theoretical limits. This enables detection of dim satellite signals beyond what is typically achievable for standard optical systems."
Numerica also notes that unlike some other systems that are currently in development, its technology doesn't require any expensive cryogenic cooling equipment. That said, the European Space Agency has created a prototype system of its own, that uses lasers to track space debris during daylight hours.
The Numerica system received a US patent on Aug. 11th, and will be presented next month via the online Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies conference. Its tracking capabilities are demonstrated in the video below.