Published: Jan. 7, 2022

Operating satellites and debris objects - dead satellites, rocket bodies, fragments created in collisions and explosions, etc. - in orbit around the Earth are collectively called Resident Space Objects (RSOs). All RSOs larger than about 5 cm in size are tracked by the United States Space Force (USSF) 19th Space Control Squadron (SpCS) radar systems. There are currently over 100,000 tracked RSOs that comprise the Orbital Catalog which is updated continuously to provide trajectory information to satellite operators. When two RSOs are calculated to be on a collision course a “Conjunction Warning” is issued by the 19th SpCS to the satellite operator, or operators if the two RSOs involved in the conjunction are operational satellites.

This video explains the special challenges of trying to track RSOs in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the region from about 200—2000 km above sea level. Space weather causes the trajectories of all RSOs in LEO to be uncertain, at times so much so that the USSF catalog is invalidated and conjunction analysis becomes impossible. With the imminent deployment of “mega-constellations” of tens of thousands of satellites to provide global broadband internet service from LEO satellites, the need to better understand the impact of space weather on both satellites and debris in LEO is becoming critical.

The video was produced by University of Colorado at Boulder space weather and Space Situational Awareness (SSA) researchers and data scientists to highlight the need for more research into space weather impacts to orbital technology systems.

  • Dr. Thomas Berger produced and directed the video. Dr. Berger is the Executive Director of the CU Boulder Space Weather Technology, Research, and Education Center (SWx TREC) and a researcher in solar physics and space weather.
  • Mr. Rees Tucker led the graphics design and production of the video. Rees worked for the CU Boulder Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) over the summer and fall of 2021.