Space Situational Awareness (SSA) is the tracking of objects – like satellites, man-made debris, and natural space debris – in orbit and predicting where those objects will be at any given time.
Since humans began exploring space in the 1950s, almost 18,000 “unnatural” objects have been put into orbit around the Earth. These include everything from Russia’s Sputnik to Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster.
In addition to these objects, it is estimated that millions of bits of debris (smaller than 10cm across) are also floating around our planet. These bits of debris are both man-made and naturally occurring: natural space debris is typically small pieces of cometary and asteroidal material, called meteoroids while artificial debris is considered any non-functional man-made object in orbit or outer space.
Oceanit’s High Accuracy Network Determination System, “HANDS” was developed to track these objects and debris and to ensure the safety of new launches and satellites, and that of the International Space Station as well.
Debris can collide with other objects, including satellites, or even larger structure like the International Space Station, to disastrous effect. in 1979, NASA developed their Orbital Debris Program, and since then the planet has increasingly been populated with man-made devices such a government satellites, private telecom satellites, Global Positioning System satellites, and more. HANDS is designed to keep this ever-growing network safe and tracked.
The HANDS system is a global network of autonomous telescopes that accurately track space based objects by fusing observations from monitoring sites around the world. Think air traffic control for space. Initial HANDS funding came via the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program for the Department of Defense’s Air Force Research Lab (AFRL).
AFRL sought new approaches to space situational awareness and, after reviewing Oceanit’s proposal, selected Oceanit to develop the system. A successful SBIR phase I, lead to phase II, and III programs. HANDS went on to become a fully autonomous, operational, and secured system for the U.S. Air Force. Read more about HANDS in the Department of Defense’s 2019 SBIR Success Stories Book.