Long-term performance analysis of NORAD Two-Line Elements for CubeSats and PocketQubes

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This paper aims at analysing the current capabilities of the NORAD Space Surveillance network, in particular focusing on very small objects in LEO. Spacecraft miniaturization has been pushing the limits and capabilities of small satellites so much that spacecraft as small as 5x5x5 cm have already been launched and even smaller ones are currently envisaged. A common remark is that these objects would be impossible to track with the available radar sensors and they would ultimately only be a threat to existing and future space assets. By analysing the objects in the NORAD catalog, we demonstrate that similar sized objects are currently tracked successfully. Covariance analysis of the available orbital elements is used to demonstrate orbital elements accuracies similar to bigger satellites. We demonstrate as well that measured cross-section is consistently over-estimated for very small objects equipped with VHF or UHF antennas actually showing that this could boost their radar reflectivity. This paper shows that
objects smaller than 10 cm in side are trackable by current surveillance radars and do not pose a higher threat than other satellites, in case proper measures are taken.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings Small Satellites for Earth Observation
Place of PublicationBerlin
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event11th IAA Symposium on Small Satellites for Earth Observation - Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin, Germany
Duration: 24 Apr 201728 Apr 2017


Conference11th IAA Symposium on Small Satellites for Earth Observation
Internet address


  • PocketQube
  • CubeSat
  • TLE
  • Tracking
  • Accuracy


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