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Algorithms to track space (and sea) objects

May. 21, 2024.
1 min. read Interactions

Helping protect spacecraft from colliding with objects like asteroids and satellites

About the writer

Amara Angelica

188.87299 MPXR

Former aerospace engineer and former member of board of directors, National Space Society

Cislunar Space (credit: M. J. Holzinger, C. C. Chow, P. Garretson/USAF)

Cislunar space, which stretches from the Earth to just beyond the Moon’s orbit, is about to become heavily trafficked over the next 10 years. This traffic includes NASA’s planned Artemis missions and other countries joining in the cislunar space race.

So there’s a need for observing, tracking and predicting the orbit of objects like asteroids and satellites so they don’t collide with spacecraft (and each other). Space domain awareness (SDA), the process of detecting and observing space objects, faces challenges.

The current SDA infrastructure, which is mostly Earth-based, is not equipped to provide the needed coverage in cislunar space, according to Tarek Elgohary, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Central Florida and director of the university’s Astrodynamics and Space Robotics Laboratory .

Tracking space objects

Elgohary’s team plans to create a computational framework to rapidly and accurately track space objects. Using Oracle, a satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the researchers will conduct experiments on space-object detection and tracking in cislunar space.

The algorithms will also allow Oracle and other spacecraft to operate autonomously without requiring intervention from Earth, according to the team.

The team will also develop a similar computational framework using algorithms to allow sea vessels to detect objects in real time and predict their future locations.

The work is supported by a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research Dynamic Data and Information Processing Program and a $150,000 grant from Lockheed Martin.

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