could not easily be modified to improve sensitivity (NASA, 1990). The Russian SSS is currently working to increase its capability to observe small objects with existing sensors, focusing research on lowering the sensitivity thresholds of its current radars and on developing new methods to acquire weak signals using narrow-angle and narrow-beam sensors and making full use of existing data regarding the space object's motion. While this research may allow the SSS to track somewhat smaller debris, radars operating at much shorter wavelengths (e.g., 3 cm wavelength to detect 1 cm diameter objects in LEO) will ultimately be required to detect debris significantly smaller than 10 cm in diameter.
Increasing the accuracy of predictions of the future location of objects in LEO is another means of improving tracking and cataloging capabilities. Such improvement is a necessary requirement for the development of an effective collision warning capability in LEO; increased accuracy is required to keep the number of false alarms for such a system low, since moving spacecraft is a task not undertaken lightly. (Collision warning schemes are discussed in some detail in Chapter 7.) Currently, uncertainty in the future location of objects due to atmospheric drag is the major limitation on catalog accuracy in LEO. This unavoidable uncertainty is due to variability in the density of the upper atmosphere and uncertainty about objects' orbital attitude (and thus the cross-sectional area they present to the atmosphere) and normally dwarfs inaccuracies caused by observation errors and errors in propagation theory. As is shown in Figure 2-2, atmospheric drag retardation along the orbital track of medium to large space objects in 300- to 600-km-altitude orbits can range up to hundreds of kilometers per day.
The most optimistic estimate of the accuracy with which atmospheric drag can be determined is ±15 percent; consequently a prediction error (which cannot be calibrated) of several kilometers per day is typically accumulated. Keeping the number of false alarms for a LEO collision warning system at a tolerable level thus requires frequent reobservations of debris objects. (Collision warning systems for objects in regions where atmospheric drag is less critical would not have this limitation; in GEO, for example, errors in estimates of objects' initial positions would be responsible for the majority of false alarms.) Improvements in propagation accuracy could be achieved by positioning sensors to minimize the required propagation time and by improving understanding of upper-atmospheric density fluctuations.
Improving the ability to track and catalog objects in orbits above LEO is basically a matter of improving the sensors (both radar and optical) used to detect high-altitude objects and acquiring enough data from these sensors to determine the orbital parameters of the objects they detect. Detecting objects that are less bright (because they either are smaller,