Space Surveillance Network Capabilities Evaluation Mission

S. Speretta*, M.S. Uludag, A. Menicucci, Ivan Ferrario

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientificpeer-review

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The last years saw the diffusion of nano, pico and femto satellite missions launched by multiple entities thanks to the launch cost reduction and the electronics miniaturization. Such missions usually present limited capabilities in terms of precise orbit determination and extremely small radar and optical cross-sections. Often these missions carry one or more laser retro-reflectors for precise orbit determination but precise orbital measurements cannot be found in the literature. Miniaturized GNSS receivers are also often carried out but due to the experimental nature of such missions, the reliability and time span of such measurements is limited, leaving radar tracking as the only reliable tracking method. Due to the size of such satellites, the signal-to-noise ratio of such radar measurements is typically low and satellite identification (when launched on ride-share launches with a hundred or more other satellites) proves difficult and time-consuming.
Being these very small satellites at the edge of the radar detection capabilities and not providing independent orbit determination means, their position uncertainty could be quite significant, leading to an increased orbit collision perceived risk.
With this paper, we present a dedicated small satellite formation, made by multiple nano and pico satellites to evaluate the space surveillance network tracking capabilities and limits. The formation is made by a 3U CubeSat to be deployed as part of a rideshare launch. The satellite would be equipped with multiple means to track it, including a GNSS receiver, a set of multiple laser retro-reflectors, and LEDs for optical, laser, and radar tracking, allowing to characterize also different detection means in terms of capabilities. Such a satellite is made of two independent smaller satellites that can be un-docked in orbit upon command, reducing the satellite size and cross-section. This would push the detection limit for the space surveillance networks starting from an already acquired object and with limited clutter around it. Independent laser and GNSS tracking would allow ground measurement validation and validate position estimations. Further pico-satellites would be deployed by each sub-satellite to further push the detection limits and validate up to which size objects are trackable (still optically, radar and GNSS), thanks to miniaturized GNSS receivers already flown by several other missions.
Sub-satellite separation is implemented upon command to ensure the process can be followed and executed at lower altitudes to limit the orbital lifetime of eventually hard-to-track small objects that could worsen the space debris problem. Ground characterization (in terms of optical and radar properties) will be performed, also including polarimetric measurements used to identify the separate satellites. All these technologies together would contribute to creating a unique tool to estimate the tracking capabilities of multiple instruments, specifically tailored for very small objects, the hardest to track, as compared to other characterization activities performed on much bigger objects.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2nd NEO and Debris Detection Conference, Darmstadt, Germany, 24-26 January 2023
EditorsT. Flohrer, R. Moissl, F. Schmitz
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Event 2nd NEO and Debris Detection Conference - Darmstadt, Germany
Duration: 23 Jan 202326 Jan 2023
Conference number: 2


Conference 2nd NEO and Debris Detection Conference


  • CubeSat
  • Space Situational Awareness
  • Demonstrator
  • Tracking

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