Introduction of Research

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Research on observation technology of space debris

Overview of research

The number of space debris objects is increasing year by year, and could cause serious damage in future human space activities. The Research and Development Directorate of JAXA is developing technologies for the active removal of large space debris objects, such as dead satellites and the upper stages of rockets. In order to develop such technologies, understanding the motion of large space debris objects in advance is important. Thus, we are developing direct imaging technology for large space debris objects by using the 60-cm telescope of JAXA’s optical observation facility at Mt. Nyukasa (Fig. 1). Our main objective is to take precise images of fast moving targets and understand their shape and motion. We are also developing technology to understand the motion of targets from changes in their brightness. Equipment that can simulate sunlight conditions in orbit is now being prepared. Using such equipment and a model of the target will enable the generation of light curve data, from which we can understand the motion of the target (Fig. 2). Both technologies will contribute to a better understanding of the motion of large space debris objects for active debris removal.

The minimum observable size of space debris is about 10 cm. The situation regarding debris of a smaller size is unclear. The maximum protectable size for spacecraft is about a few mm. Narrowing the gap must be done by improving observation and protection technologies. We are thus developing optical observation technologies that allow us to observe space debris objects less than 10 cm in size and determine their orbits. These technologies will contribute to Japan’s system of space situational awareness in the future, and will also be applied to searching for near Earth objects that may pose a risk of colliding with Earth.

Fig. 1. The 60-cm telescope
used for direct imaging of
large space debris objects
Fig. 2. The setup for the simulation of light curve observation

Research achievements

  • Yanagisawa, T., et al.: Detection of LEO Objects Using CMOS Sensor, Transactions of the JSASS Space Tech, Aerospace Technology Japan, Aerospace Tech. Japan, 14, ists30 (2016), pp. Pr_51-Pr_55.
  • Yanagisawa, T., et al.: Ground-based Optical Observation System for LEO Objects, Advances in Space Research, 56 (2015), pp.414-420.
  • Tagawa, M., Yanagisawa, T., et al.: Orbital objects detection algorithm using faint streaks, Advances in Space Research, 57 (2016), pp.929-937.
  • Yanagisawa, T., Kurosaki, H.: Shape and motion estimate of LEO debris using light curves, Advances in Space Research, 50 (2012), pp.136-145.
  • Yanagisawa, T., Kurosaki, H.: Detection of Faint GEO Objects Using JAXA’s Fast Analysis Methods, Transactions of the JSASS Space Tech, Aerospace Tech. Japan, 10 ists28 (2012), pp.Pr_29-35.
  • Yanagisawa, T., Umehara, H.: Strategy for detection of eccentric objects near the geosynchronous region, Acta Astronautica, 65 (2009), pp.1001-1006.
  • Yanagisawa, T., et al.: Automatic Detection Algorithm for Small Moving Objects, PASJ, 57 (2005), pp.399-408.