Amateur astronomers help Ministry of Defence track space objects

News, Space

A member of Basingstoke Astronomical Society using a telescope
A group of volunteer astronomers are helping the Ministry of Defence monitor objects as small as freezers in space as it becomes increasingly congested.

Members of the Basingstoke Astronomical Society (BAS) have been exploring whether a low-cost network of cameras could improve experts’ situational awareness.

The Hampshire-based group offered to help after hearing about the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) space programme.

The equipment used by Basingstoke Astronomical Society to help the MoD
The equipment used by Basingstoke Astronomical Society (Basingstoke Astronomical Society/PA)

It is essential to track the more than 22,000 artificial satellites in orbit to “avoid unexpected collisions”, the Royal Astronomical Society said.

The group used commercial telescopes, DSLR cameras and low-light cameras to successfully record images of satellites including the International Space Station.

Dstl said it was “pleased” to discover that equipment similar to that used by amateur astronomers could accurately monitor the positions of low level satellites as small as a kitchen freezer.

Grant Privet, from Dstl, said: “The accuracy of the exposure timing is absolutely critical, and requires some attention to detail.

“The BAS astronomers were very good and clearly highly talented, so together we formed a good team.

“We found there are no obvious impediments to using commercially available kit to provide small component of a more capable and diverse system for monitoring space, where satellites of importance to UK communications, economy, and defence operate”.

He will discuss the collaboration at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy meeting in Lancaster on Thursday.

Full results from the partnership will be published later in 2019.


Chris Price
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