Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have created a technique that allows telescopes to see objects in the night sky more clearly in order to combat harmful and costly space debris.
Thanks to the researchers’ efforts, adaptive optics, which eliminates haziness induced by turbulence in the atmosphere, has been applied to a new “guide star” laser for better detecting, tracking, and safely moving space debris.
The $US700 billion in space infrastructure that provides vital services to people all over the world every day is under threat from space debris. Thanks to laser guide star adaptive optics, this infrastructure now has a new line of defence.
ANU researchers worked with colleagues from Electro Optic Systems (EOS), RMIT University in Japan, and the United States as part of the Space Environment Research Centre to develop the optics that focus and direct the guide star laser (SERC).
EOS is now attempting to commercialise the most recent guide star laser technology, which could be used in tool kits to allow high-bandwidth ground-to-space satellite communications.
The laser beams aren’t apparent because space junk is monitored with infrared light. The new guide star laser, which is mounted on a telescope, projects a clear orange beam into the night sky, creating an artificial star that can be used to measure light distortion between Earth and space.
This directing orange light is used in adaptive optics to sharpen images of space debris. It can also send a second, more powerful infrared laser beam through the atmosphere to track space debris and safely transfer them out of orbit so they don’t collide with other debris and burn up in the atmosphere.
According to ANU’s lead researcher, Professor Celine D’Orgeville, adaptive optics is like “removing the twinkle from the stars.”
” But that’s a good thing”, Professor D’Orgeville said.
The EOS guide star laser and the ANU adaptive optics systems are housed at the ANU Mount Stromlo Observatory in Canberra, Australia.
The ANU researchers will now work with EOS to validate the new technology and apply it to a number of other uses, including Earth-to-space laser communications.
It’s an exciting development that will contribute to the long-term feasibility of a broad range of important space technology applications in the twenty-first century.