A GEOSYNCHRONOUS ORBIT SEARCH STRATEGY
, THOMAS SCHILDKNECHT
, MARK MATNEY
, PAUL KERVIN
and WALTER FLURY
The Boeing Co.;
Astronomical Institute, University of Bern;
Lockheed Martin Co.;
Air Force Research Laboratory;
NASA Johnson Space Center;
European Space Agency,
Robert Bosch Strasse 5, 64293 Darmstadt, Germany;
Author for correspondence
(Tel.: 6151902270; Fax: 6151902625; E-mail: walter.ﬂury@esa.int)
(Received 17 January 2003; Accepted 5 February 2004)
Abstract. Since more than 10 years there is evidence that small-size space debris is accumulating in the
geosynchronous orbit (GEO), probably as the result of breakups. Two break-ups have been reported in GEO.
The 1978 break-up of an EKRAN 2 satellite, SSN 10365, was identiﬁed in 1992, and in 1992 a Titan 3C
Transtage, SSN 3432, break-up produced at least twenty observable pieces. Subsequently several nations
performed optical surveys of the GEO region in the form of independent observation campaigns. Such
surveys suffer from the fact that the ﬁeld of view of optical telescopes is small compared with the total area
covered by the GEO ring. As a consequence only a small volume of the orbital element-/magnitude-space
is covered by each individual survey. Results from these surveys are thus affected by observational biases
and therefore difﬁcult to compare. This paper describes the development of a common search strategy to
overcome these limitations. The strategy optimizes the sampling for objects in orbits similar to the orbits
of the known GEO population but does not exclude the detection of objects with other orbital planes. A
properly designed common search strategy clearly eases the comparison of results from different groups and
the extrapolation from the sparse (biased) samples to the entire GEO environment.
Keywords: optical surveys, space debris, space debris environment in GEO, survey strategies
At the 12th Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) Meeting, A. Potter
indicated there is evidence that debris is accumulating in the geosynchronous orbit (GEO)
region, probably as a result of breakups. At least two breakups have been reported in
GEO. The 1978 breakup of an Ekran 2 satellite, SSN 10365, went undetected prior to its
identiﬁcation in 1992 by the Commonwealth of Independent States. In 1992, a Titan 3C
Transtage, SSN 3432, broke up producing at least 20 pieces. These fragments were tracked
by the ground-based electro-optical deep space surveillance telescopes for a few days after
the event, but have since been lost. Debris resulting from breakups could move outside the
GEO orbit plane; over time searches should include regions outside the GEO plane as well.
It was suggested that an international campaign to survey the GEO region would be an
effective means to expand our knowledge of this population. The objectives for this survey
were to determine the extent and character of debris in GEO, speciﬁcally by obtaining
distributions for the brightness, inclination, right ascension of ascending node (RAAN),
and mean motion for the debris.
Space Debris 2, 357–369, 2000.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.