A passive debris tracking system in support to future space traffic management

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The number of objects in space since the earliest time of the space era has increased considerably to the point that key orbital regimes have become dangerously congested with space debris. The increase in the number of small satellites and the expected launch of mega-constellations in the near future pose a serious challenge to the management of space traffic. Even collisions with very small objects (few cm in size) at orbital speed can cause catastrophic consequences. This paper presents the major results of the CUSPT (CubeSat based Passive bistatic radar for space debris Tracking) study and how this passive tracking system can contribute to improve space traffic management in Low Earth Orbit. In 2016, the UKSA funded the project CUSPT, which proposed an innovative passive system to track space objects by detecting the occultation of the radio signals coming from existing commercial and Earth Observation satellites. The concept proposed in CUSPT consists of a space-borne radar installed on a low altitude cubeSAT and processing the radio signals coming from existing satellites flying at higher altitudes. The study investigated the feasibility and performance of such a passive bistatic radar system. Key performance metrics considered in this paper are: the minimum size of detectable objects, visibility and frequency constraints on existing radio sources, the receiver size and the compatibility with current cubeSAT technology. Different illuminator types and receiver altitudes are considered under the assumption that all illuminators and receivers are in circular orbits. CUSPT demonstrated that objects down to a few cm could be detected with a low cost simple receiver on board a cubeSAT flying at very low altitude.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2017
Event15th Reinventing Space Conference - University of Strathclyde Technology & Innovation Centre, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 24 Oct 201726 Oct 2017
Conference number: 15


Conference15th Reinventing Space Conference
Abbreviated titleRISpace 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • space debris
  • cubeSAT
  • passive bistatic radar

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