Rome 03 March 2015
Fifty years after Sputnik and the first launch of a satellite into space, interstellar waste has become an issue that must be addressed. Earth's orbit, in fact, contains a true ‘space landfill’ composed of fragments of vectors and decommissioned satellites that pose a threat to human activities in space, to the numerous satellite and space systems that are indispensable for the provision of strategic services (air navigation, remote sensing, meteorology, etc.) and to communications (TV, phone, etc.).
Therefore, the use of a system capable of detecting space junk and minimising risk of impact with critical infrastructures has assumed a vital role. In order to make progress in this area, over the past weeks Finmeccanica/Selex ES, in collaboration with the Italian Air Force, has been conducting tests concerning surveillance and tracking of space junk. The tests were performed using the RAT-31/DL FADR (Fixed Air Defence Radar) radar system produced by Selex ES for the Italian Air Force and which is already integrated in National Air Defence network. The testing activities are falling within the SST - Space Surveillance and Tracking segment of the wider SSA - Space Situational Awareness program launched by the European Space Agency (ESA).
The tests, which began in December of last year, were carried out together with the 4a Brigata Telecomunicazioni e Sistemi per la Difesa Aerea (4th Italian Regiment of Telecommunications and Air Defence Systems) and the Assistenza al Volo di Borgo Piave (LT) (Flight Assistance Unit of Borgo Piave) and the Reparto Sperimentale di Volo di Pratica di Mare (Flight Test Unit of Pratica di Mare), in order to verify the monitoring and surveillance potential of the radar system installed at the Air Force Base of Borgo Sabotino (LT, Italy).
The activities are spearheaded by an exploratory mandate of the Presidency of the Italian Council of Ministers, which has delegated the Italian Air Force to represent Italy in the program, initiated and funded by the European Commission. The program aims to survey, collect and coordinate all radar and optical information available within the pool of participating nations in order to reduce the risk of collisions between efficient orbital systems and decommissioned satellites or space junk. The commission also takes into account all previous test activities conducted by the Italian Air Force in 2013, in collaboration with the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).
The testing activities yielded a valuable contribution to the program, also demonstrating Italy’s interest to actively participate in the SST Consortium for the protection of assets and investment in the space sector, both in national and partnership programs such as Galileo, Copernicus, SICRAL, ATHENA FIDUS, COSMO SkyMed, weather satellites, etc.).