Ground-based laser system to track space junk

Posted by Emma Woollacott

An Australian company is to build the world's first automated laser system to track dangerous space junk.

A consortium headed by Electro Optic Systems Holdings has been awarded a $4.04 million grant from the Australian Space ResearchProgram (ASRP), which will go towards the $9 million cost. The project will be based at EOS's current facility at Mount Stromlo.

"Australia has a proud history in space science and research. The ASRP helps us expand our already important role in international partnerships," said innovation minister Senator Kim Carr.

"Modern space science and exploration is all about countries working together, and Australia has a great reputation in collaborating and leading new space research."

The system will be able to track items as small as ten centimeters across and accurately predict the danger of collisions. It will have a similar level of sensitivity to the junk-tracking satellite launched earlier this month by the US Air Force.

But EOS chief executive Craig Smith said that current systems could not determine orbits in space with sufficient accuracy to cost-effectively avoid collisions between satellites and space debris.

"This project will demonstrate responsive, high precision laser and optical tracking of space debris, improved space situational awareness for key space assets, and fully remote and automated operation of a high performance laser tracking system," he said.

"These new features, to be demonstrated from 2012, can significantly reduce the cost of providing debris protection to satellites, and will ease the integration of the capability into the operational processes of key users."