Research Projects

Space Science

Title: Space debris and satellite material degradation in geosynchronous orbit

Supervisors: John Kennewell, David Coward and assistance from Ariane Rocket industry group (previously Air Bus)

Every rocket, satellite and object sent into Earth orbit inevitably produces debris. As a result of our dependence on satellite technologies we now have an ever increasing volume of space debris ranging from rocket boosters and fuel tanks to fragments from collisions. Though some objects in low Earth orbits eventually re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, the majority stay in orbit for centuries. At present there are about 35 million objects of more than 0.1 cm in orbit; importantly, only 13,420 objects of more than 10 cm are catalogued, and the debris is increasing at a rate of 220 objects per year. One important aspect for tracking space debris is understanding how defunct satellites degrade over time to produce more space debris. The debris can be catergorised by the primary object, the satellite, and fragmentation of the main satellite. This may take the form of surface degredation from impacts with external debris and the affects of solar and cosmic radiation. The project will use multi-band imaging of a number of geosynchronous satellites to determine changes in the surface properties of various types of satellites. Such changes are expected to manifest themselves by changes in surface reflectance that vary across optical wavelength.