Optical observations of space debris in GEO and in highly-eccentric orbits

Schildknecht, T.; Musci, R.; Ploner, M.; Beutler, G.; Flury, W.; Kuusela, J.; de Leon Cruz, J.; Dominguez Palmero, L. F.
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Advances in Space Research, Volume 34, Issue 5, p. 901-911.

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The space debris population in low Earth orbits (LEO) has been extensively studied during the last decade and reasonable models covering all size ranges were produced. Information on the distribution of objects in the geostationary ring (GEO), however, is still comparatively sparse. Until quite recently the population of man-made objects in GEO had to be inferred solely from the about 900 continuously tracked objects and the modeling of the two explosions known to have occurred in GEO. Optical observations from the last two years performed with ESA's 1-m telescope at the Teide observatory in Tenerife changed the situation substantially. A hitherto unknown but significant population of small-size objects with diameters as small as ten centimeters has been detected in GEO. Objects in highly-eccentric orbits crossing the GEO region, in particular objects in geostationary transfer orbits (GTO), also contribute to the density of space debris in GEO. This family is even less well known than the GEO population, although many explosion events were reported in this orbital region. The paper will summarize recent results from the ESA GEO survey and describe the techniques and first results of a trial GTO survey.