sample debris in a "beam park" mode (similar to the sampling technique used by ground telescopes), in which the radar stares in a fixed direction (preferably vertically to maximize sensitivity) and debris is counted as it passes through the radar's field of view. Since 1987, significant amounts of sampling data have been obtained by using the Arecibo, Goldstone, and Haystack radars. In addition, the longer-wavelength FGAN and MU radars have demonstrated the ability to sample the medium and large debris population, respectively (Mehrholz, 1993; Sato et al., 1992).

In 1989, the Arecibo Observatory's high-power 10-cm-wavelength radar and the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex's 3-cm-wavelength radar were used (with the assistance of other radars) to obtain orbital debris data. Neither radar was designed to track debris, but both were expected to detect small debris if it existed. In 18 hours of operation, the Arecibo experiment detected nearly 100 objects larger than an estimated 0.5 cm in diameter (Thompson et al., 1992). In 48 hours of observation, the Goldstone radar detected about 150 objects larger than approximately 0.2 cm in diameter (Goldstein and Randolph, 1990). Because little effort was made either to accurately define the collection area of these radars or to properly calibrate them, these data have fairly large uncertainties. Even so, these experiments demonstrated that data could be obtained in a beam park mode and that there was a large population of smaller debris to be detected.

Since 1990, more than 2,400 hours of data have been collected and analyzed from the Haystack radar (Stansbery et al., 1994). This 3-cm-wavelength radar situated at 42°N latitude can be pointed either vertically or south, 10 or 20 degrees above the horizon. In the vertical mode, maximum sensitivity is obtained, but detection in LEO is limited to orbits with inclinations greater than 42 degrees. When the radar is pointed south, sensitivity is poorer, but LEO objects with inclinations as low as 25 degrees can be detected. The complete data set from the Haystack observations contains information on the size, altitude, range rate (the rate of change in the distance from the object to the radar), and direction of motion of debris at altitudes up to 1,500 km. The data on the direction of motion can be used to determine an object's orbital inclination with a typical uncertainty of about 5 degrees (though uncertainty can be much higher for objects that are barely detectable). The range rate data can be used to determine orbital eccentricity when pointed vertically and inclination when pointed near the horizon. In the vertically pointing mode, the smallest objects detected range from about 0.3 cm at 350 km to 0.7 cm at 1,400 km. In the south-pointing mode the smallest objects detectable are larger—typically about 1 cm. Haystack transmits right circularly polarized radio waves and receives both left and right circularly polarized

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement