Extraction of spin periods of space debris from optical light curves

Linder, Esther; Silha, Jiri; Schildknecht, Thomas; Hager, Monika (2015). Extraction of spin periods of space debris from optical light curves. In: Proceedings of 66th International Astronautical Congress. Curran Associates, Inc.

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The population of space debris increased drastically during the last years. These objects have become a great threat for active satellites. Because the relative velocities between space debris and satellites are high, space debris
objects may destroy active satellites through collisions. Furthermore, collisions involving massive objects produce large number of fragments leading to significant growth of the space debris population. The long term evolution of the debris population is essentially driven by so-called catastrophic collisions. An effective remediation measure in order to stabilize the population in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is therefore the removal of large, massive space debris. To remove these objects, not only precise orbits, but also more detailed information about their attitude states will be required. One important property of an object targeted for removal is its spin period, spin axis orientation and their change over time. Rotating objects will produce periodic brightness variations with frequencies which are related to the spin periods. Such a brightness variation over time is called a light curve. Collecting, but also processing light curves is challenging due to several reasons. Light curves may be undersampled, low frequency components due to phase angle and atmospheric extinction changes may be present, and beat frequencies may occur when the rotation period is close to a multiple of the sampling period. Depending on the method which is used to extract the frequencies, also method-specific properties have to be taken into account. The astronomical Institute of the University of Bern (AIUB) light curve database will be introduced, which contains more than 1,300 light curves acquired over more than seven years. We will discuss properties and reliability of different time series analysis methods tested and currently used by AIUB for the light curve processing. Extracted frequencies and reconstructed phases for some interesting targets, e.g. GLONASS satellites, for which also SLR data were available for the period confirmation, will be presented. Finally we will present the reconstructed phase and its evolution over time of a High-Area-to-Mass-Ratio (HAMR) object, which AIUB observed for several years.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Astronomy

UniBE Contributor:

Linder, Esther, Silha, Jiri, Schildknecht, Thomas, Hager, Monika


500 Science > 520 Astronomy




Curran Associates, Inc.




Alessandro Vananti

Date Deposited:

14 Dec 2015 16:38

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:50





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