New approaches to tracking satellites and debris in orbit are to get a boost from the UK Space Agency.

UKSA is giving over £1m to seven firms to help advance novel sensor technologies and the smart algorithms needed to interpret their data.

Finding better ways to surveil objects moving overhead has become a high priority issue.

With more and more satellites being launched, there’s growing concern about the potential for collisions.

A big worry is the burgeoning population of redundant hardware and junk in orbit – some 900,000 objects larger than 1cm by some counts, and all of it capable of doing immense damage to, or even destroying, an operational spacecraft in a high-velocity encounter.

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The projects being supported by UKSA come from a mix of start-ups and more established companies.

The overriding goal is to improve ways to spot, characterise and track objects.

Ultimately, this is information which could be fed into the automated traffic management systems of the future that will keep functioning satellites out of harm’s way.

The funded projects include:

Lift Me Off: To develop machine-learning and artificial intelligence techniques to distinguish between satellites and space junk.
Fujitsu: To also develop machine-learning approaches and quantum-inspired processing to improve mission planning to remove debris.
Deimos and Northern Space and Security: To both develop a new range of optical sensors to track space objects from the UK.
Andor: To enhance the sensitivity and speed of its camera detector technology to map and track ever smaller sized debris objects.
D-Orbit UK: To refine the use of recently launched sensors to capture images of, and characterise, objects moving around a spacecraft.
Lumi Space: The company is developing laser ranging technology to again spot, characterise and precisely track objects in orbit.

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