July 11, 2016

Satellites placed in geostationary Earth orbits are necessary for everything from financial transactions to weather forecasting.

As a quick definition, GEOs are the orbits that hover above the equator. They move in sync with the Earth's rotation. So when an object (i.e., a man-made satellite) is placed into a GEO, it appears motionless to those of us here on the ground.

The technical process of tracking and cataloging the many satellites that are now in GEO and other orbits is called Space Situational Awareness. Currently, SSA involves the use of ground-based sensors that don't always produce the most accurate data due to things like cloud cover and the distance from Earth to the GEO belt.

Recent graduate Brian Bone was taking a look at this process as part of his final project in the Systems Engineering program and discovered that co-locating SSA sensors within the GEO would provide much more accurate and persistent observations because they'd be unhindered by many of the same limitations as ground-based sensors.

His project, which he calls the Auxiliary-Hosted Regional Geosynchronous Optical Space Situational Awareness (ARGOS) System, would combine a low-cost, low SWaP sensor and communications suite with a scalable ground-based data processor to collect, transmit, and process visible-wavelength images, ultimately allowing scientists to better observe satellites in GEO and prevent collisions.

Bone served sixteen years as a development engineer for the U.S. Air Force and currently supports the Space Test and Training Range as a systems engineer.

The Systems Engineering program at Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals regularly highlights the applied systems design projects and in-depth thesis research of its students. We will continue to make these presentations available so that they can benefit the entire systems engineering community.