Most Canadian live in a city where the view of the majestic night sky is impacted by light pollution. If they could see the sky in the countryside they would be amazed at the amount of satellites that are flying overhead. A project at Western University is now using meteor tracking cameras to monitor the growing number of satellites in orbit.
The team of Western researchers are repurposing their “existing cutting-edge technology initially designed for meteor observation.”
The new initiative is a collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). That collaboration “will adapt the technology used by the Western-led Global Meteor Network to efficiently monitor satellites over Canada using very low-cost cameras.”
Peter Brown, Canada Research Chair in planetary science and member of Western’s Institute for Earth and Space Exploration said in a press release that “Satellites in the sky look like really, really slow meteors, so it is a natural extension of our meteor observation program. Our heavens are on the brink of becoming notably populated by satellite constellations and we need to know what’s up there, not only when but where.”
The new cameras being tested will be able to “track satellite constellations, rocket bodies and other debris in low earth orbit (LEO) while continuing to monitor meteors.”
Brown added that “as more satellite constellations go into orbit, we need a fast way to record their location, brightness and state of health. We believe this camera network, supported by Western’s decades of experience in observing meteors and the new technology by the Global Meteor Network, will be able to accomplish this task.”
SpaceX alone has over 5,000 satellites in low Earth orbit and with several more large constellations in development having the ability to accurately track these satellites is more important than ever.
According to Western “the new initiative will demonstrate Western’s all-sky camera’s ability to successfully track satellites as seen from one location. Current tests show the cameras can detect and track LEO satellites with sizes above 40 cm (about the size of a large pizza). The existing sensors have been providing nightly tracks to DRDC since the project began in January 2023. Once prototype testing is complete later this year, Brown and his collaborators will deploy a series of enhanced cameras across the country to keep continuous watch over Canada’s skies.”
Denis Vida, a postdoctoral researcher at Western, who leads the Global Meteor Network added that “after satellite constellations began to dominate the skies a few years ago, we developed algorithms to remove them from the meteor data. We simply turned the algorithms off and out came fully automated satellite detections. We are now fine-tuning the tried-and-true algorithm to detect even more satellites and using a suite of machine learning techniques to detect even fainter satellites.”