What is Space Debris?
Space debris or orbital debris is the presence of non-functional artificial objects like defunct rocket bodies, old satellites, payload debris, fragments from disintegration and collisions, etc., in the earth’s orbit.
Can Space Debris Fall Back to Earth?
Most of the space debris falls back to earth. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a piece of debris falls back to earth about once a day. These objects either burn up in the atmosphere or end up in water (which makes up 70% of the Earth’s surface).
Is Space Debris a Problem?
The area that space debris occupies is important as it is directly related to how many collisions we expect in the future. As things stand, collisions between debris and satellites are predicted to overtake explosions as the dominant source of debris.
Moreover, the continued creation of space debris can lead to the Kessler syndrome, which is a vicious chain reaction where each collision causes more debris that increases the chances of further collisions.
Tracking Space Debris
There is generally a priori information available for tracking space debris, such as some orbital elements and the approximate size of the object. A Tracking and Imaging Radar (TIRA) system is employed to point towards a predetermined position in space, and after detection, the object is tracked, and its observation vectors are collected. Through this, its radar signature and orbital parameters are computed where the former provides clues as to the object’s intrinsic motion (rotation or tumbling rate).