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NASA team proposes to use laser to track orbital debris

NASA team proposes to use laser to track orbital debris

Barry Coyle, working with Paul Stysley to develop a laser technique for tracking orbital debris, stands next to the laser ranging telescope at Goddard's Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory. The observatory would be the test site for the laser technique.
Barry Coyle, working with Paul Stysley to develop a laser technique for tracking orbital debris, stands next to the laser ranging telescope at Goddard's Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory. The observatory would be the test site for the laser technique.

As participation in space exploration grows worldwide, so does the impact of orbital debris—man-made "space junk" that poses significant hazards to live spacecraft and astronauts should they cross paths and collide.

Barry Coyle and Paul Stysley, laser researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, want to develop a method to define and track orbital debris using laser ranging—a promising approach that could overcome shortfalls with passive optical and radar techniques, which debris trackers use today to locate and track dead satellites, spacecraft components, and other remnants orbiting in low-Earth or geosynchronous orbits where most space assets reside.

Inspired by an Australian study that found laser tracking increased the accuracy of debris ranging by a factor of 10 when compared with other methods, Coyle and Stysley now "want to reproduce the results from this paper on a larger scale," using Goddard's Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory (GGAO). The GGAO satellite laser-ranging team, led by Goddard's Jan McGarry, has advanced laser-ranging techniques using satellites equipped with retro-reflectors, becoming world leaders in the field.

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October 28, 2014


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