Helium Network Tracking Space Junk With IoT Telescopes

1 min read

exclosure.io astronomer team

Orbital collision debris, rocket shards and zombie satellites cause more headaches than light pollution of the night skies. More than 27,000 large pieces of space junk congest safe traffic in the orbits of commercial and scientific satellites, and even the international space station itself.

Russia, China, India and the United States have all, on occasion, shot down their own satellites when deemed expedient, resulting in just part of the massive junkyard of miscellaneous objects orbiting the earth.

The origins and purposes of many other objects circling the earth are not always shared by responsible governments, so it’s difficult to assign or assess risks and pollution contributions.

Exlosure astronomers
 From left, Exclosure CEO Matthew Goodman, and engineers Brian Alvarez and Michael McCoy.  Credit: exclosure.io

Working under a DeWi Alliance Grant, a little company called Exclosure is using the Helium network to build an array of small IoT smart telescopes to track the night skies.

space debris around earth
Space Debris orbiting the Earth.    Credit: ESA

Who Is Responsible For Tracking Space Debris?

The Department of Defense’s Global Space Surveillance Network tracks space junk. So does Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence,  LeoLabs, ExoAnalytic and Northstar. Russia and China also track space objects and the European Union has its own SST Consortium. 

However, Exclosure CEO Matthew Goodman contends that most space debris data is held by governments and militaries which don’t always share freely with environmental stakeholders or the public at large. Companies and governments responsible for extraterrestrial trash are often not keen to fess up about their miscues and collateral debris.

Goodman says “companies that launch stuff up there don’t want to be seen as polluters. We’re capturing data on space objects . . . establishing who owns what, and where it is in space.”

Credit: exclosure.io

Why The Helium Network?

The Helium Project has more than 640,000 globally distributed radio frequency gateway devices that collect and upload data from Internet of Things smart devices.

Typical applications include smart home devices, tracking monitors, and environmental and agricultural sensors.

Much of Helium’s success has come from their innovative use of blockchain technology to create an incentivized, decentralized peer-to-peer connectivity network for all kinds of IoT applications.

Helium’s model also turns Aerospace technology companies’ near-earth tracking approaches upside down.  High tech approaches, including radar, laser and even optical solutions are expensive, because they depend on costly infrastructure and support. 

For example, satellite operators signing up for a subscription to NorthStar’s collision-proofing tracking services are expected to pay between $10 million and $100 million per year.

In contrast, Helium’s low-cost radio frequency network will allow Exclosure to cheaply observe space objects with precise resolution, by looking at each object from up to 100 different locations on Earth. Not only is Helium’s connectivity-cost inexpensive, but the mini optical observatories themselves will be 3D-printable and use off the shelf consumer optics.

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