With IARPA, Intel Community joins the fight against (microscopic) space debris – Breaking Defenses Breaking Defenses

Damaged image detected on STS-126 Window No. 6. (Image supplier: NASA)

WASHINGTON: The Intelligence Community’s cutting-edge research group is eyeing a new project to detect small but potentially dangerous pieces of space junk that threaten satellites and astronauts, and is asking industry and academia help.

The project deviates to Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Operations (IARPA), which, like sister military agency DARPA, has no operational mandate; instead, it is assigned to original research on complex technological challenges. But IC really has a dog in the fight to handle the growing amount of space junk. After all, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) owns and operates the majority of the nation’s spy satellites.

“The problem is continuing to get worse. And we’ve reached a point of no return… now we have a point where more debris will be generated than actually returned to Earth,” said Alexis Truitt, program director of IARPA, told Breaking Defense.

“We invest in high-risk, high-return research to support some of the toughest challenges facing ICs,” she said. And the debris is “one of the toughest challenges affecting satellites around the world.”

IARPA’s February 10 request for information (RFI) seeking ideas from industry and academia on new methods to find and track small debris emanating from the National Orbital Debris Research and Development Plan in January 2021 [PDF]Truitt explained.

The Biden White House announced in November that it intends to update the plan, which calls for research into limiting debris generation, tracking and characterizing it, and removing or replacing it. so it. And to that end, the Office of Science and Technology Policy last month began a round of consultations with industry, experts and researchers.

Specifically, IARPA is focusing on finding space junk between 10 cm and 1 mm in diameter, which is currently eliminating the tracking capabilities of Space Command’s 18th Space Control Squadron and other companies. commercial company that provides spatial situational awareness services. This would fill a gap that no other federal agency is currently working on – the Space Force is focusing on ways to better characterize debris to achieve what the Space Force is trying to achieve. officials called spatial domain awareness; and NASA for years have targeted debris as small as millimeters.

The RFI asked interested suppliers and university researchers to respond by March 11 with information on “existing or new proposed technology for ground, air and/or non-ground sensors.” space”, from commonly used optical cameras and radars to more exotic sensing capabilities such as solar sails and signals from the global navigation satellite system.


A soliton wave in the Strait of Gibraltar. (NASA photo)

It also requires information on “appropriate physical phenomena including but not limited to single waves of plasma density (solitons), electrostatic discharges, orbital decay, magnetic disturbances and/or emission Radio waves are generated when orbital debris interacts with the surrounding plasma environment. ”

In particular, the RFI explains “there is reason to believe that debris-generated solitons offer detection and tracking opportunities.”

Truitt, who has worked at NASA and on plasma physics, explains that solitons are unique waves that can appear in any liquid, and that their behavior in space is similar to their behavior in space. country.

If you imagine watching the waves at a beach, solitons are waves that seem to glide across the surface, maintaining their shape as they move, as opposed to waves that change in shape and size change over time as they approach shore. Scientists can use the soliton’s unique configuration to help characterize the object that made it.

The RFI is also looking for information on “specific sensor acquisition modes” and “probabilistic detection techniques for low-noise objects,” as well as ways to improve and speed up the characteristic. data.

“We certainly wanted to examine the current state of the art, across industry and academia and even with international partners,” says Truitt. “We are planning to hold a workshop this spring and will complete a review of the RFI responses by that time.”


The European Space Agency’s debris crash test resulted in a 1cm long piece of metal ‘BB’ hitting a piece of aluminum. (ESA photo)

IARPA does not talk about its research budget. At the same time, the agency advertises itself as funding research that companies and university researchers won’t be able to pursue, because the work is too risky or too far forward.

The microchip research group is always on the lookout for funding transition partners to include its research in a formally recognized research program, in the same way as DARPA.

“Traditionally, our main conversion partners have been IC and DoD,” says Truitt. “And orbital debris is a big risk to our mission here. But there may be an additional advantage for other agencies benefiting from this study. And we will work closely with other agencies, should we pursue the orbital debris program.”

https://breakingdefense.com/2022/02/with-iarpa-intel-community-joins-battle-against-tiny-space-debris/ With IARPA, Intel Community joins the fight against (microscopic) space debris – Breaking Defenses Breaking Defenses

Jake Nichol

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