AI-Powered Solution to Track Space Debris

AI-Powered Solution to Track Space Debris

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Since the first launch of a human made machine into space, approximately 55,000 satellites were deployed into space as of 2023. It is further estimated that there are millions of pieces of debris larger than 1 centimeter, as well as tens of millions of smaller debris particles that are hard to track.

A recent study published in IET Radar, Sonar & Navigation reveals researchers found a way to track the troublesome metal objects by utilizing AI – they reportedly used data from the Tracking and Imaging Radar to teach computers how to recognize and track objects.

The method they tried is a detection system based on the You-Only-Look-Once algorithm, which, unlike older methods that need several passes or sliding windows, can spot objects in just one go through the neural network, making it much faster and more efficient.

According to Interesting Engineering, the evaluation was conducted in a simulated environment mimicking real-world conditions, and the results showed that the YOLO-based detection system outperformed all traditional approaches, achieving a higher detection rate while maintaining a low rate of false alarms.

Co-author of the study Federica Massimi explains, “In addition to improving space surveillance capabilities, artificial intelligence–based systems like YOLO have the potential to revolutionize space debris management. By quickly identifying and tracking hard-to-detect objects, these systems enable proactive decision-making and intervention strategies to mitigate collisions and risks and preserve the integrity of critical space resources.”

The reason many space agencies and organizations worldwide are tracking space debris is that it is essential to remove these particles to maintain a safe and sustainable space environment. But with the increasing speed and quantity of satellites being launched into space, the debris is only bound to increase.

Satellites nowadays are avoiding debris by carefully planning orbits to minimize the risk of collision with known debris and being designed with protective shielding to withstand small impacts. Satellite operators also use ground-based tracking systems to monitor debris and maneuver satellites to avoid potential collisions.