NEW DELHI: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is setting up a network of telescopes and radar to develop its own system to monitor space debris to safeguard its space assets. The network will be set up under the Directorate of Space Situational Awareness and Management, whose foundation stone was laid in Bangalore last Friday. Currently, ISRO has 50 functional satellites, including communication, navigation and surveillance satellites, in space. 

Talking to TOI, ISRO chairman K Sivan said, “Till now, ISRO was dependent on NORAD (North America Aerospace Defence Command) data, which is available in public domain, for keeping track of space debris and monitoring our active and passive (dead) satellites. However, this global data is not accurate. NORAD also keeps accurate data, which is exclusively available to those that are members of its network. Therefore, ISRO can’t access this data.” 

To get accurate data about the movement of space debris to avoid collision with its satellites, ISRO has decided to set up telescopes and radars in four corners of the country. “Our sophisticated multi-object tracking radar installed in Nellore (90 km from Sriharikota) will be part of this project. We will also set up a telescope in Ponmudi and second one in Mount Abu (Rajasthan) and third one in deep north. We will also install a radar in the northeast,” Sivan told TOI, adding, “Once this network is operational, we will be able to get accurate data on space debris and will also become part of the global network where we can access very accurate data on debris from hundreds of radars set up across the world.” 

The directorate would monitor inactive satellites, pieces of orbiting objects, near-earth asteroids and adverse space weather conditions. 

According to the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, 1,400 of 19,000 artificial objects currently being tracked in the earth’s orbit are functional satellites. The remaining objects are collectively known as “space debris”. According to an estimate by the European Space Agency, there are over 34,000 pieces of debris in orbit that are larger than 10 cm in size, close to a million pieces between 1 cm and 10 cm, and 128 million pieces of debris less than a centimetre in size. 

This number of debris is growing with every satellite launch as there are several components of rockets which become useless in space after releasing the satellite and turn into debris.