Space Debris Detection and Tracking with the Techniques of Cosmic Ray Physics
2019 August 01
Space Debris (SD) consist of non-operational artificial objects orbiting around the Earth, which could possibly damage space vehicles, such as the International Space Station (ISS) or other manned spacecrafts. The vast majority of such objects are cm-sized, not catalogued and usually the tracking data are not precise enough. Here we present the feasibility study of SD detection and tracking with techniques usually employed in cosmic-ray physics. For this purpose, we have evaluated the possibility of using Mini-EUSO, a space-borne fluorescence telescope to be deployed on the ISS, to track SD illuminated by the Sun. By means of ESAF (EUSO Simulation and analysis Framework) simulation and by developing the trigger algorithms, we estimated the minimum size and maximum distances of detectable SD. We then studied the number of possible SD detections using an ESA software called MASTER (Meteoroid and SD Terrestrial Environment Reference). With the Mini-EUSO Engineering Model (Mini-EUSO EM), we performed some measurements to estimate the reflectance of the most common SD materials and to demonstrate the ability of Mini-EUSO to detect SD events. We also performed some tests in open-sky conditions, identifying and tracking fast-moving objects. In particular, the detection of a rocket body allowed us to confirm the simulation outcomes predictions and the expected performance of the detector.