Key Technologies Enabling Enhanced Space Situational Awareness Sensors

In order to ensure that space activities take place safely and in conformity with national and international laws, standards, and other norms, space situational awareness (SSA) is crucial. It entails being aware of potential hazards to space activities and the space environment.

Experts in space technology claim that information obtained from space can provide the fine satellite information needed to keep track of satellites and their increasingly crowded orbits.

In the past few years, commercial satellite operators have dramatically increased the number of spacecrafts launched.

According to the worldwide satellite launch projection based on the BIS Research space database, 45,131 spacecraft are expected to be launched between 2022 and 2032. The majority of these 45,131 satellites, i.e., 95% of them, are anticipated to operate in low Earth orbit (LEO).

SSA can help to mitigate problems like orbital collisions between spacecraft and space junk. Operators need to be aware of their legal responsibilities, such as those relating to liability, ownership, and control of space objects.

Owing to all these benefits, the SSA market is expected to grow significantly.

According to BIS research analysis, the global space situational awareness services market was valued at $125.2 million in 2021, which is expected to grow at a CAGR of 3.3% during the forecast period 2022–2032 and reach $172.7 million by 2032.

Figure 1 Space situational awareness market growth

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How does space situational awareness (SSA) work?

The fundamental component of space security is SSA services, which comprise tracking all man-made and natural objects, particle fluxes, and energy, as well as comprehending how the space environment is always changing. SSA services essentially refer to tracking and observing the location of objects in space, as well as predicting the object’s location at any given moment.

SSA is a system that primarily deals with near-Earth objects, space weather, and space monitoring and tracking. It uses a network of radar and electro-optical sensors to monitor all man-made and natural objects, energies, and particle fluxes.

Space Domain Awareness vs. Space Situational Awareness

SSA sensors are regarded as a subset of space domain awareness, which is a broader concept. Space domain awareness examines events that take place in a particular environment and focuses on everything that is associated with that environment. On the other hand, the emphasis on space and time (situations) in SSA is more focused on operations, incidents, real-time analysis, and quick responses.

Key SSA Technologies

1. Radar Technology: Historically, SSA has been reliant on ground-based radars, which typically contain at least one transmitter and receiver. The ground station service provider can determine the target’s location on the radar by using the radio signal that the transmitter generates, part of which is reflected off the target and received by the receiver.

Radar systems have the advantages of actively measuring a target’s distance, detecting an object’s motion, and creating a representation of the object’s shape. The main drawbacks of radar systems are their expense, complexity, and size.

2. Passive Radio Frequency Sensing: Conventional SSA services can be improved using the radio frequency (RF) used by space equipment to communicate. Satellites moving in geostationary orbit won’t be visible by radar and telescope in the midday sun.

However, its radio frequency signature can identify movements and irregularities at any time of day or night in any kind of weather. By detecting satellite moves in real time and pinpointing their precise location for collision avoidance, conjunction assessment, and flight safety, passive radio frequency sensing enhances existing SSA capabilities.

Tracking passive radio frequency of unique resident space objects, operating under all-weather circumstances, and tracking space objects in all orbital regimes are key benefits for SSA services.

3. Multi-Telescope Observation Stations: In SSA services, optical telescopes are another popular sensor type. With the use of lenses, mirrors, or a combination of the two, telescopes focus electromagnetic (EM) radiation that has been emitted or reflected by an object into a sharp image.

The main advantages of using optical telescopes for SSA services are that they can quickly cover large areas of the sky and help track objects above 5,000 km altitude. Few telescopes can provide high-resolution images of space objects.

Conclusion

Any space endeavor must first establish SSA. Operators can carry out operations securely, lower the chance of collisions, and prevent interfering with other entities’ or nations’ activities in space by being aware of where space objects are in orbit, their orbital trajectory, and their status.

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