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A Method for Detecting Resident Space Objects and Orbit Determination Based on Star Trackers and Image Analysis (Mechanical Project)

Satellites commonly use onboard digital cameras, called star trackers. A star tracker determines the satellite’s attitude, i.e. its orientation in space, by comparing star positions with databases of star patterns. In this thesis, I investigate the possibility of extending the functionality of star trackers to also detect the presence of resident space objects (RSO) orbiting the earth. RSO consist of both active satellites and orbital debris, such as inactive satellites, spent rocket stages and particles of different sizes.

I implement and compare nine detection algorithms based on image analysis. The input is two hundred synthetic images, consisting of a portion of the night sky with added random Gaussian and banding noise. RSO, visible as faint lines in random positions, are added to half of the images. The algorithms are evaluated with respect to sensitivity (the true positive rate) and specificity (the true negative rate). Also, a difficulty metric encompassing execution times and computational complexity is used.

The Laplacian of Gaussian algorithm outperforms the rest, with a sensitivity of 0.99, a specificity of 1 and a low difficulty. It is further tested to determine how its performance changes when varying parameters such as line length and noise strength. For high sensitivity, there is a lower limit in how faint the line can appear.

Finally, I show that it is possible to use the extracted information to roughly estimate the orbit of the RSO. This can be accomplished using the Gaussian angles-only method. Three angular measurements of the RSO positions are needed, in addition to the times and the positions of the observer satellite. A computer architecture capable of image processing is needed for an onboard implementation of the method.
Source: Uppsala University
Author: Bengtsson Bernander, Karl

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