Space Situation Awareness (SSA) and debris monitoring

Space has plenty of space, but lower Earth orbit is increasingly busy. Old satellites, rocket parts, collision debris and junk have the potential to interrupt future space missions or even worse knock out our existing satellite networks. The risk of a catastrophic collision in space between active satellites and debris is also rapidly escalating, driven by the reduced costs to access space and the corresponding increased rate of satellite launches. The creation and management of space debris poses a globally recognized problem with far-reaching consequences, potentially impeding future access to space for generations to come, especially in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The reason that objects in space can do so much damage is speed. Space debris, usually the leftover remnants of defunct satellites) travels around the world at 17,500 miles per hour, and NASA estimates that there are 500,000 pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth that are larger than a marble, and millions of tiny bits like paint chips that are impossible to track.  Space Situational Awareness contributes to both safer and more sustainable use of near-Earth space. Proliferating a powerful Space Domain Awareness (SDA) architecture across LEO, geosynchronous orbit (GEO), and cislunar space must be done quickly and affordably for the protection of space assets.

Trusted by the US government and industry for over 40 years, DFM offers leading technology for accurate tracking of satellites, debris, and objects in all orbital regimes. DFM Engineering is a global leader in the design and manufacture of systems for space domain awareness and space control. Our fast telescope mounts allow continuous tracking of satellites even in very low orbits. With high fidelity tracking, actions in space are captured in detail.  NASA reports detection sensitivity down to 1cm diameter at LEO and 10cm at GEO, using DFM's Hydrostatic Bearings Double Horseshoe Mount NASA 1.3M MCAT telescope which is making a valuable contribution to our understanding of the space orbital debris environment.

DFM Engineering has extensive experience, including designing and building the optical system for the world’s early warning killer asteroid impact system for the University of Hawaii funded by NASA.  ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) features f/2.0 5.5 degree FOV camera / optical system.  ATLAS's recent recording of Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)'s impact into Dimorphos, showcase DFM optics seeing an asteroid target roughly 350 feet across at a distance of 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) away from Earth.  

DFM Engineering’s extensive track-record in SSA and satellite tracking led the US Air Force to choose DFM to retrofit their primary deep space tracking system, the Ground Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) network, to improve system performance. This included refurbishing optics and building a completely new control system, currently in deployment.  Our state-of-the-art optical manufacturing and testing facility is experienced at producing the highest quality complete optical systems required for demanding SSA applications.  It is DFM's extensive experience with electro-optical surveillance capabilities and their necessary sensors that will make your custom SSA project a success.

It was with these best-in-class designs that DFM Engineering has optimized a commercially available space-based domain awareness system for scaled deployment: The LEO Scope™.

DFM's new flagship product, The LEO Scope™, offers the highest cost/performance commercially available satellite tracking Optical Ground Station (OGS) available. Featuring 26-inch (66cm) aperture optics based upon our ATLAS design, the telescope / camera offers F/1.7, 4.4-degree FOV, and a Ximea Gpixel GSENSE6060 cMOS camera (6144 x 6144 with 10µm square pixels 61-mm x 61-mm, 86.8-mm diagonal).  This OGS offers low inertia and high stiffness to track at LEO rates which can exceed 10-degrees per second. 14th magnitude stars are detectable with a 1/10 second exposure. Two degree step and settle to +/- 1.5 arc seconds within one second.  The OTA accepts a single filter, or DFM's Filter Cassette Changer System utilizing an 8-position filter cassette.  These 125-mm X 125-mm X 9-mm thick research-grade filters, when integrated with 3 or more telescopes on the same site to form a networked array, allow for seeing in color (color photometry) for full-frame Space Object Identification (SOI), a vital capability for SSA. 

You can also see what DFM optics in our CCT-24 (0.64M) telescope are capable of producing, utilizing 'lucky imaging' with image stacking, in the following image of the Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on 19 June 2007 at 02:14 UTC at an estimated altitude of 350 km: