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The UK Space Agency funds orbital awareness technology



The D-Orbit transport vehicle has cameras that can also search for nearby space debrisImage copyright

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Artwork: The D-Orbit conveyor platform has cameras that can also search for nearby space debris

New approaches to tracking satellites and debris in orbit will receive a boost from the UK Space Agency.

UKSA is giving over 1 million to seven firms to help advance the new sensor technologies and intelligent algorithms needed to interpret their data.

Finding the best ways to supervise moving objects has become a matter of high priority.

With the launch of more and more satellites, there is growing concern about the potential for collisions.

A major concern is the growing population of surplus equipment and debris in orbit – about 900,000 objects larger than 1 cm from some charges, and all of them are capable of doing great damage, or even destroying an operational ship in a high speed meeting.

The UKSA-supported projects come from a mix of start-ups and start-ups.

The main goal is to improve the ways to spot, characterize and trace objects.

After all, this is information that can be entered into automated traffic management system in the future that will keep functional satellites out of danger.

Funded projects include:

  • Lift me up: Develop machine learning techniques and artificial intelligence to distinguish between satellites and space debris.
  • Fujitsu: Also develop quantum-inspired machine learning and processing approaches to improve waste planning mission planning.
  • We say and Northern Space and Security: Both are developing a new range of optical sensors to locate space objects from the UK.
  • Andor: To increase the sensitivity and speed of its camera detector technology to design and track increasingly smaller garbage objects.
  • D-Orbit UK: To perfect the use of recently released sensors to capture images and characterize objects moving around a spaceship.
  • River Area: The company is developing laser technology to again accurately distinguish, characterize and track objects in orbit.

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Deimos is developing technology to find space objects from the UK

“We have known for a long time that the spatial environment is becoming more difficult, more messy,” said Jacob Geer from UKSA. “Space surveillance and tracking is one of the main things we can do to keep safe the satellites we rely on now and to make sure certain orbits do not become inaccessible to future generations because there is a lot of debris. in them.

“We had 26 proposals that came to us and I think we have chosen a good cut of ideas in the seven companies we are supporting,” he told BBC News.

While many of these projects are still in the laboratory phase, D-Orbit’s work is dedicated to pushing the capability of some of its equipment already into space.

The company recently launched a vehicle to hold and deploy a swarm of small satellites. This vehicle uses cameras to photograph its surroundings and to design stars for navigation purposes.

D-Orbit has the idea of ​​using camera photos to also identify past junk.

“One of the challenges in using star trackers is filtering out objects that are not supposed to be there – obviously because you are trying to compare what you can see against a catalog of stars,” explained Simon Reid of D-Orbit. “And, of course, there are those extra objects which are basically things that are potentially rubbish.”

The funding announcement also coincides with the signing of a new partnership agreement between the Ministry of Defense and UKSA to work together on spatial domain awareness.

Both have valuable assets and interests in orbit that need protection. And for taxpayers in the UK, this investment has recently deepened with the acquisition of the bankruptcy of satellite company OneWeb.

The UK Government now owns one of the largest networks of spacecraft in the sky. OneWeb has so far launched 74 satellites in its communications constellation, with plans to deploy thousands more.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Millions of pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth pose a significant threat to UK satellite systems that provide vital services that we all take for granted – from mobile communications to weather forecasting. .

“By developing a new AI technology and sensors, the seven pioneering space projects we are supporting today will significantly strengthen the UK ‘s ability to monitor these dangerous space objects, helping to create new jobs and protect services in which we rely on in our daily lives. ”

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