Space debris

The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded five contracts to Numerica for the design and development of advanced algorithms to help augment its space situational awareness (SSA) mission.

Under the combined $3.3m contracts, Numerica will deliver new algorithms to aid the USAF in safeguarding space assets and in maintaining situational awareness for current and future space deployments, through identification and tracking of orbiting objects.

The algorithms will offer enhanced estimation and data fusion, multi-sensor space object tracking, efficient propagators and gravity models, as well as uncertainty management and anomaly detection for the SSA mission.

Becky Jensen, Numerica marketing manager, was quoted by as saying that the algorithms will enable accurate tracking of space objects from satellites and fragments of space junk by the air force’s existing 20 sensors in the orbit, thus protecting satellites.

The USAF currently maintains an inventory of over 20,000 detectable space objects orbiting the Earth, which are expected to increase up to 200,000 within the next five to ten years, due to improved sensors, future collision events and continuous fragmentation.

Featuring astrodynamics and tracking algorithms, the service is seeking a next-generation SSA system to help in secure management of the growing space catalogue.

According to a report by the National Research Council (NRC), published in September 2011, the orbit is currently filled with greater government and commercial ”space junk”, compared to the late 1950s, and the debris may lead to spacecraft collisions or even cause damage to valuable communication satellites.

The SSA mission includes detection, cataloguing and tracking of all space objects orbiting the Earth, along with the prediction of events, threats and activities in space.

Image: A depiction of all space objects orbiting the Earth. Photo: courtesy of Numerica Corporation ©.