STRATHcube : the design of a CubeSat for space debris detection using in-orbit passive bistatic radar

Creed, Lewis and Graham, Julie and Jenkins, Ciarán and Diaz Riofrio, Sebastian and Wilson, Andrew and Vasile, Massimiliano (2021) STRATHcube : the design of a CubeSat for space debris detection using in-orbit passive bistatic radar. In: 72nd International Astronautical Congress, 2021-10-25 - 2021-10-29, Dubai World Trade Centre.

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There is a growing need to detect, track and catalogue space debris in the congested Low Earth Orbit (LEO) region. A method to detect debris could be to use space-based passive bistatic radar (PBR). The STRATHcube project proposes to launch a CubeSat into LEO as a PBR technology demonstrator where a signal processing algorithm developed at the University of Strathclyde to detect space debris will be tested. The concept involves a radar receiver and antenna on-board a CubeSat orbiting at a low altitude to detect the radio signals transmitted by operational satellites orbiting at higher altitudes. These signals may have been modified by an object orbiting between the operational satellites and the CubeSat and therefore would indicate a piece of debris exists. This paper will present the integration of PBR technology onto a CubeSat as a payload on the STRATHcube mission and discuss the challenges faced due to the limitations of the small platform. The use of a custom-built 3D antenna and an off-the-shelf patch antenna are investigated as design options for the payload. A high-level design for each option was completed to evaluate their capabilities on the size of trackable debris and to determine their mass and power parameters. After an extensive trade-off analysis at a system level, carried out to narrow down the options of the PBR payload on the CubeSat platform, it was determined that the patch antenna option presented the best way of facilitating the experiment onboard the CubeSat due to its small size and mass. The completed design of the STRATHcube mission will enable an in-orbit demonstration of the PBR technology, which if successful, will provide an alternative to conventional ground-based tracking that is cheaper and more available to the space community. This method would then be proven to industry who can use this approach to implement on a larger scale in the future.