Thales Radar System Can Help Satellites Avoid Space Debris

SMART-L Multi-Mission long-distance radar (Credit: Thales)

PARIS (Thales PR) — More powerful and accurate, Earth Observation satellites feature major breakthrough technologies contributing to a better understanding of our planet, our oceans, our weather conditions… in a nutshell, our global environment. Earth Observation satellites, whether using radar or optical payloads, can also be used for defense uses, in particular for applications linked to maritime security or border surveillance. Moreover, powerful telecommunications satellites can offer High Speed Internet in certain coverage zones, directly contributing to bridge the digital divide, in particular in isolated areas.

Yet that only will be possible if they can find space in that space—a place to park in orbit that will not be vulnerable to the dangers of increasing space debris.

Space debris of all kinds – satellites, bits of rocket stages, parts spun off the International Space Station – is now in constant orbit around the earth.

Add to this meteorites and comets plus solar flares and other weather conditions, and you’ve got the potential for scary close encounters.

“A lot of this is left over from the earlier days of the space age,” says Bart van der Graaff, Director, Operational Business Development. These metal objects travel at 8 kilometres per second, so they can inflict great damage if they hit a satellite. They could even knock out communications. And then there goes Facebook, satellite TV, GPS, and even bank ATMs.

Thales is playing a role in improving our “space situational awareness”, or the understanding of the orbital population, with its SMART-L Multi-Mission long-distance radar.

Deployed by the Royal Netherlands Air Force to detect enemy ballistic missiles, the radar also spots and tracks near-Earth objects.

The Royal Netherlands Navy will deploy the newly developed Thales long-distance radar on its 4 air defence and command frigates. Because it can detect threats so early and calculate the flight path within seconds, there is more time for an interception.

“In addition to this military use, we can “offer a solution for cataloguing all objects in space so that we can see the trajectory of debris, and avoid possible collisions by, for example, repositioning satellites,” van der Graaff said.

In this way, Thales provides a way of reducing the risk of more collisions and more debris, so that future space activity can continue unimpeded.