“You can’t hit what you can’t see” is a common phrase in sports and was originally derived to describe baseball pitcher Walter Johnson’s fastball. But the same goes for things with a more serious spin, such as some of the millions of pieces of debris floating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Now, a team of researchers have come up with a new imaging system that will allow agencies and governments to closely track some of the debris that is cluttering LEO and potentially endangering humanity’s future expansion to the stars.
That danger was first described by Donald Kessler in 1978 and is now commonly known as “Kessler syndrome”. In such a scenario, the debris field surrounding Earth gets so bad that it blocks access to (or from) space. To avoid such a fate, humanity will eventually have to come up with ways of dealing with space debris. Hoping that objects that are left to decay in LEO and burn up in the atmosphere is not a viable mitigation strategy.
Visual depiction of Kessler syndrome. Credit: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office
Such a mitigation strategy has so far proven difficult to develop. Understanding and tracking how many objects are actually up ...