tech track papers

Categories: 2019, Space Situational Awareness

An Innovative, Dual Use Star Tracker for Detecting Dim Objects for Space Situational Awareness (SSA) while Enabling Attitude Determination

Space Situational Awareness situational awareness (SSA) is an emerging area of growing complexity given the increasing number of satellites flown for the military, commercial, and civil applications plus other orbital debris. With the this increasingly congested and contested environment, there is a growing need for new systems with enhanced capabilities to detect and track these resident space objects (RSOs), especially when they have faint/dim characteristics. At Ball Aerospace, we have developed the advanced CT2020 star tracker featuring a new state of the art CMOS detector with exceptional radiation tolerance and performance. In this paper, we present an innovative dual use of the CT2020 star tracker with the ability to operate as a sensitive camera to detect and track dim RSOs while simultaneously providing attitude determination. The star tracker’s full-frame images can be stacked through post-processing where each pixel is registered to an inertial reference frame defined by the attitude output to significantly boost SNR and enable the detection of very dim objects. This novel dual use tracker method does not require an external gyroscope that provides attitude knowledge of each pixel in the frame and does not rely on analytical pixel registration algorithms that can be computationally intensive. Its reliance on already computed attitude quaternion that simultaneously output attitude and full frame images provide significant SSA and attitude determination capabilities in a single low SWaP configuration.