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ADLER-2 will search for space debris in orbit
A new satellite that aims to further enhance orbital debris monitoring in low Earth orbit (LEO) and expand novel atmospheric sensing capabilities to study clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere was launched on 15. April 2023 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
SpaceX’s Transporter-7 mission, a Falcon 9 rideshare flight into sun-synchronous orbit, carried several small satellites for commercial and government customers, including the ADLER-2 satellite, a second mission developed by the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF).
In partnership with Austrian-based new space technology investor Findus Venture GmbH, the satellite mission is a collaborative effort including involvement from GRASP SAS European, a US instrument builder providing space services, and US midstream service company Tilebox. It is built and will be operated by Spire Space Services, which allows organizations to deploy and scale their own satellite constellation at maximum speed and with minimum risk, through a subscription model that eliminates the high upfront cost of building and maintaining space infrastructure. Commercial and government organizations can deploy and operate a constellation of satellites, a hosted payload, or a software application in space with Spire’s infrastructure.
Our goal at Spire Space Services is to simplify space and make it accessible so that anyone is able to benefit from the insights and intelligence that can be garnered from the ultimate vantage point,” said Frank Frulio, General Manager of Space Services, Spire. “The OeWF is a prime example of an organization that has leveraged our platform to build space-based applications and gather intelligence to promote sustainability on Earth and beyond.”
ADLER-2 is twice the size of its predecessor, ADLER-1, which launched in January 2022, and will continue the mission to provide valuable new insights into LEO space debris over its 12-month mission. The cubesat, carrying payloads to detect and track orbital debris and perform air quality measurements around the globe, is expected to increase the debris detection rate.
The three payloads aboard Spire’s LEMUR 6U satellite are a radar device, the APID (Austrian Particle Impact Detector) ‘space microphone’ from the Austrian Space Forum, and an optical sensor developed by AirPhoton Inc., the US division of GRASP SAS, a European company that will provide enhanced monitoring of Earth’s atmosphere aerosols.
GRASP’s GAPMAP (GRASP-Airphoton Multi-Angle Polarimeter) sensor, a technology demonstrator, is the first instrument of its kind in space and it will contribute to the study of air pollution by detecting from orbit composition and concentrations of aerosol in Earth’s atmosphere.
The sensor will demonstrate the potential for Earth-viewing images of multiple wavelengths, angles and polarization states to characterize particulate pollution anywhere on the planet, indicating a breatdh of measurement capabilities that no small satellite sensors, and only a few large satellites ones, currently can match.
OeWF and Findus Venture partners and operators will continue to use Tilebox to access and process ADLER-2 data. With ADLER-1, Tilebox proved orchestration capabilities, a solid auto-scaling profile and processing cost savings, re-processing about 2 million gathered events in just a few minutes.
Tilebox Inc. is the first fully integrated midstream cloud platform that offers a secure, high performance and scalable solution for space companies to develop data products easier, faster and cheaper.
“At Tilebox, our mission is to empower businesses to harness the power of satellite data. We have been doing the heavy lifting while ÖWF and Findus could focus on creating intelligence” commented Co-Founder Stefan Amberger.
For this new mission, the Austrian Space Forum enhanced its APID ‘space microphone’ by increasing its size sixfold. All data obtained from the radar and the space microphone will be evaluated by the OeWF to learn more about space debris in Earth orbit.
“Our APID instrument, comparable to a microphone in terms of its functionality, is a highly sensitive foldable sensor array that registers impacts and forwards the signal to an onboard computer,” said OeWF director Dr Gernot Grömer. “The sixfold increase in size means that when the panel is fully deployed it will have a span of 2m and will therefore register many more impacts than ADLER-1. More impacts mean more data and thus an even more precise picture regarding space debris in Earth orbit.”
The OeWF space microphone APID has also been further developed in terms of materials. While ADLER-1 used piezoelectric foils, ADLER-2 uses a specially developed piezoceramic plate, which has greater temperature resistance and can more efficiently compensate for the extreme temperature differences between the sunny and shady sides.
Why monitoring space debris is important
Decades of space activity have littered Earth’s orbit with debris, and as the world’s space-faring nations continue to increase activities in space, so does the chance for a collision. Scientific models estimate the total number of space debris objects in Earth orbit to be more than 170 million for sizes larger than 1 mm, all of these having impact energies comparable to the speed of a bullet.
“Space debris, and the increased risk of collisions between objects, is therefore something we need to manage carefully and as a first step we need to improve our understanding of what is happening and when,” said Dr Grömer.
“ADLER-2 is expected to help increase the debris detection rate by 80 percent thanks to the use of a debris detection radar with larger antenna and increased detection range, and also to double the number of observations logged.
“The real-time logging of data can then be compared to the ESA and NASA simulations, thus providing us with a valued reality check,” added Dr Grömer. “But mapping space debris and finding safe orbits is only part of the story and it is just as important to avoid future space debris as much as possible to provide future generations with safe access to space.”
Vitali Braun, of ESA’s Space Debris Office, described the project as at the forefront of deepening our understanding of the space debris environment. “The small particle sizes ADLER-2 is measuring are beyond what can be detected with ground based methods, and so far, in-space measurements are sparse at best,” he explained.
“Although we have complex models to describe the debris environment – supported by radar and optical detectors in terrestrial observatories – there is a weak spot in our data when it comes to the plethora of small-sized particles. Data from ADLER-2 can start to narrow that gap, and provide near-real time data of space debris related events in its orbit.”
After completing its successful year-long mission, ADLER-1 will be de-orbited under controlled conditions and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere thus avoiding becoming space debris as well. The results of its measurements will be made available to the scientific community after the mission is completed.
Key ADLER-2 data
- Six-unit cubesat measuring 30 x 20 x 10 cm (ADLER-1 was a three-unit cubesat).
- Mission duration: one year
- Orbit altitude: 500 km
- Launch: 15th April 2023 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, launched from Vandenberg Space Force Space Base, California
- Companies involved:
Findus Venture GmbH (Financing)
Spire Space Services (Cubesat, Radar)
OeWF (APID space microphone and scientific management)
GRASP SAS (GAPMAP)
Tilebox midstream cloud platform
For more details: https://adler.oewf.org/adler2/
About the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF)
The Austrian Space Forum is one of the world’s leading institutions conducting Mars analog missions, thus paving the way for the future human exploration of the Red Planet. Experts from a broad variety of disciplines as well as the spaceflight sector constitute the core of the OeWF’s continued endeavors that on a regular basis include national and international institutions from science and industry to work at the cutting edge of scientific research. On doing so the Austrian Space Forum is using its excellent contacts to opinion leaders, politics and media to further and internationally propagate Austrian top-level research. The Austrian Space Forum also contributes significantly to inspiring and educating young people in the sectors of science, technology and engineering. The OeWF offers internships to students and pupils, its experts supervise scientific papers on a regular basis. www.oewf.org
Mag. Monika Fischer
OeWF Media Team Lead
Phone: +43 699 1213 4610
This article is available in: German
- Tagged: ADLER-2, Cubesat, launch, space debris
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