Wednesday, 23 May 2012

EISCAT and Space Situational Awareness

At the 4th EISCAT_3D User Meeting in Uppsala, we have heard an interesting talk by Hannu Koskinen (U Helsinki) on the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme of the European Space Agency (ESA). includes four elements, which are Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST), Near-Earth Objects (NEO), Space Weather (SWE), and Data Centres (DC). SSA is a service-oriented programme, not a research programme.

Space surveillance radars exist already, and most are military facilities. Now new facilities are planned, with a monostatic radar in Spain and a bistatic system in France. While monitoring satellites is important, space debris has become a threat to space exploration, and space agencies are increasingly aware that space debris objects and their distribution needs to be monitored. One of the practical problems is that access to military space surveillance data is complicated.

Within the Space Weather element, four expert groups are proposed on Solar Weather, Ionospheric Weather, Radiation Environment, and Geomagnetic Environment.

What could be EISCAT's contribution to SSA? — The observation of small space debris particles has already been part of EISCAT's operations and it is anticipated that the new EISCAT_3D radar will very well be able to compete — or better: complement — other space debris monitoring systems. EISCAT will be very beneficial to space weather if one ensures, that experiments can be scheduled flexibly to react quickly to event alerts and warnings, and forward the observations immediately and efficiently to space weather partners.

Hannu Koskinen pointed out that the life-time of current solar wind missions is limited (ACE, WIND), and the upcoming KuaFu mission, which is a joint proposal of China, Canada and Europe, will be well placed to fill this function. The plan is to launch three satellites, one of which will be located at the L1 point, i.e. the place where the gravity of Earth and Sun balance out, which then will monitor events like solar flares and solar wind shock waves.

See also, e.g., the recent BBC Future article "Space junk: Why it is time to clean up the skies".

Photo: Thomas Ulich, click to enlarge.

Disclaimer: These notes are taken in real-time during the presentations at the EISCAT_3D User Meeting, so please get in touch if you find any errors and have any comments. You can also use the comment function of this blog. Thank you.

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