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Categories: 2017, Space Situational Awareness

Solar Glint for Optical Ranging

Space has become a contested warfighting domain and it is imperative that the Air Force has the ability to provide Space Situational Awareness (SSA) to operational commanders.  Due to the complexity of holding custody of space vehicles of interest with a single sensor, and due to limitations in coverages areas, sensors in the Space Surveillance Network (SSN) must be tipped and tasked to achieve a higher level of total coverage. Exploiting existing data in new and innovative ways to tip and cue existing sensors can increase the probability of detection and characterization of space vehicles of interest. An example would be an orbiting satellite observed by ground telescopes. From a single electro-optical sensor, it is difficult to determine the satellite’s orbital height without additional data. A potential method is to exploit the solar glint of the object to provide additional data to assist in determining the height of the object’s orbit. By calculating the point of intersection between the line of sight vector from a ground telescope to the orbiting object and the earth’s cylindrical shadow at the moment an object emerges from the earth’s shadow (by observing the solar glint of the object) one can improve the accuracy of the satellite geolocation, and thus reduce the uncertainty from a vector to a small search volume. Using a tool for rapidly performing image processing and geometry calculations, the tool’s output could also be used to tip the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) sensors and other satellite surveillance systems. Additionally, this SSN image exploitation method could be used by operators to perform predictive analysis on satellite intentions based on state vectors.

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Author: Anja Brokaw
Topic: Space Situational Awareness