Lockheed Martin to tackle space debris

The defence firm will use telescopes and lasers to track rogue material.

Only a third of the estimated 3,600 satellites in orbit are still operational. Credit: ESA

Space debris is a growing problem for public and private space agencies. Now, defence company Lockheed Martin has become one of the first organisations to take action against the problem by commissioning the building of a space junk tracking station in Australia.

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Electro Optic Systems (EOS), the company charged with building the tracking station, will use optical equipment, similar to that found in the ground-based observatory’s, and lasers to detect and identify problematic debris.

“Ground-based space situational awareness is a growing priority for government and commercial organisations around the world that need to protect their investments in space,” said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president at Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Growing problem

With more than 3,600 satellites orbiting above us and only a third of them still operational, it’s little wonder that companies like Lockheed Martin are taking action.

Earlier this year we spoke to Dr Hugh Lewis, a senior lecturer in aerospace engineering at the University of Southampton about the growing need to clean up low-Earth orbit, “Satellites provide us with quite a lot of things we take for granted, such as telecommunications, GPS and weather forecasts,” he said.

“If a piece of space debris destroys one of those satellites it will have an effect on day-to-day life.”

In regards to removing space junk and not just tracking it Dr Lewis doesn’t think the task will be easy, “We’re still looking into how it could be done safely,” he said.

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“If a retrieval mission fails then you’re leaving a spacecraft in close proximity to the high-risk object it was targeting.”