Numerica operates a network of ground-based telescopes to help the U.S. government and commercial satellite operators keep a watchful eye on what’s happening in Earth orbit. Credit: Numerica

COLORADO SPRINGS — Space data provider Numerica is upgrading its network of ground-based telescopes so they can track objects both in low Earth orbit and beyond.

“Our telescopes traditionally have been used to track satellites in geostationary orbit but until now they have not been used for tracking objects in LEO,” said Jeff Aristoff, vice president of space systems at Numerica.

“We added some innovations so we can track objects in low Earth orbit from our telescopes around the world,” Aristoff told SpaceNews. 

Numerica, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, operates more than 20 space surveillance sites worldwide. The company does not disclose the exact number of sites or their locations for competitive reasons. It sells the data as a service to customers in the U.S. government and to satellite operators. 

“There’s a need for better information and better understanding of what’s going on in low Earth orbit because that’s where many more satellites are being launched,” said Aristoff.

Most of the surveillance of satellites and space junk in low Earth orbit today is done by radar sensors but optical instruments can help enhance and add new details to the data collected by radar, he said.

Tracking objects in low orbits is difficult as they are moving very quickly, Aristoff said. “You have to have good timing on your systems, and they have to be very well calibrated.”

“What we’re trying to do is complement the radars that are out there,” he said. “There’s only so many radars. There just aren’t enough sensors for the amount of objects in space.”

Because satellites in low orbit are so close to the Earth, they tend to spend a lot of time in the shadow and they are difficult to see with optical sensors, noted Aristoff. “So what we’ve done is we’ve upgraded our existing telescopes and our network to be able to track these objects during twilight hours so you can see them at dawn and dusk.” 

He said Numerica expects to grow its business providing data to satellite operators concerned about congestion in low Earth orbit. Operators need better intelligence so they can prevent collisions, Aristoff said. 

“We can help reduce the uncertainty so that those decisions can be made more easily. Anyone that operates a satellite in low Earth orbit would benefit from the information that we provide.” 

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...