AIM

To conduct initial studies into possible future SSA technologies that could improve sustainability  in space

These studies will be aimed at deriving high-level estimates of key performance parameters, the CONOPS for the system, and initial estimates of the cost of implementation

TIMESCALE

Short studies lasting a few months

FUNDING

Up to £30k, depending on the work programme proposed

LEAD ORGANISATION

Proposals to address these challenges should be led by an STFC institution

Rationale

The purpose of a space-based infra-red instrument would be to collect imagery or video of target objects in orbit. Applications could include:-

  • Detection of unknown (i.e. small) space objects
  • Status assessments of known objects, (e.g. whether objects appear to be under thermal control)
  • Damage assessments in the event of unexplained satellite malfunctions

The rationale for using an infra-red instrument is that, owing to the longer wavelengths, the probability of detection would be improved in comparison to an optical instrument with an equivalent aperture at an equivalent distance from the target object. (Some objects are comparatively “dark” optically, but would be at temperatures approaching 300K as a consequence of solar illumination and the Earth’s albedo, and hence should be more readily detectable against the 3K background of space).

Instrument Design

The study should evaluate the potential performance of an infra-red instrument designed to operate in Earth orbit. Parameters of interest include the size of the primary aperture, the configuration of the focussing mechanism, and the characteristics of the detector.

An evaluation of the size, weight, and power requirements of the instrument should also be provided.

The imaging frequency and instrument parameters will dictate the data collection rate, which should also be estimated.

CONOPS

Since there is not a requirement for the target object to be illuminated by the Sun, the collection strategy will not necessarily be dictated by the lighting conditions. The study should investigate the preferred concept of operations (CONOPS) for the orientation of the instrument over the course of an orbit to maximise the collection opportunities.

Orbit

The study should identify any orbital constraints on the operation of the instrument, (whether in LEO, GEO, or elsewhere). A preferred orbit should be selected, depending on the chosen target objects.

Ground Segment

Any drivers arising from the CONOPS or choice of orbit on the nature of the ground segment should be identified

Rationale

The purpose of a space-based ultraviolet sensor would be to collect high-resolution imagery or video of target objects in orbit. Applications could include:-

  • Detailed assessments of unknown space objects
  • Status assessments of known objects, (e.g. targets for de-orbit missions)
  • Damage assessments in the event of unexplained satellite malfunctions

The rationale for using an ultra-violet instrument is that, owing to the short wavelengths, the resolution of the imagery would be improved in comparison to an optical instrument with an equivalent aperture at an equivalent distance from the target object.

Another potential benefit which should be examined during the study is to extend the range at which useful observations can be performed. This should permit more frequent opportunities to collect data on objects of interest.

Instrument Design

The study should evaluate the potential performance of an ultra-violet instrument designed to operate in Earth orbit. Parameters of interest include the size of the primary aperture, the configuration of the focussing mechanism, and the characteristics of the detector.

An evaluation of the size, weight, and power requirements of the instrument should also be provided.

The imaging frequency and instrument parameters will dictate the data collection rate, which should also be estimated.

CONOPS

Due to the obvious requirement for the target object to be illuminated by the Sun, the collection strategy will be dictated by the lighting conditions. The study should investigate the preferred concept of operations (CONOPS) for the orientation of the instrument over the course of an orbit to maximise the collection opportunities.

Orbit

The study should identify any orbital constraints on the operation of the instrument, (whether in LEO, GEO, or elsewhere). A preferred orbit should be selected, depending on the chosen target objects.

Ground Segment

Any drivers arising from the CONOPS or choice of orbit on the nature of the ground segment should be identified

High speed imaging detectors are likely to become the default in optical studies of SSA in the future. They offer advantages beyond those of CCD’s for certain types of observations.

Here we would like to see an algorithm developed to efficiently enable blind stacking (focused on debris detection) of image data taken with either an EMCCD, frame transfer CCD or sCMOS detectors.

You will need to use typical data formats with pixel dimensions at least 2048×2048 pixels and preferably more.

Given that these processes will need to run in effectively real time we would need to see how the algorithm efficiency scales with numbers of images and if it can benefit from use in a GPU environment.

The challenge is to develop a tracking system capable of detecting and imaging objects during the daylight hours

One objective is to identify the wavelengths that provide the greatest chance of detection

The use of polarisation filters to enhance the detection probability should be explored – it is anticipated that this will lead to a preferred strategy for conducting observations relative to the position of the Sun

An assessment should be made of the size of object that can be detected using this technique, given a particular aperture and filter combination

Any understanding of the change in the effective temperature of the target over the course of a pass should be investigated if possible

If you are interested in applying for funding for one of our Challenges, then please submit your Expression of Interest to us in the first instance.