NASA will reportedly use a new sensor on the International Space Station to observe space junk in orbit that is too tiny to be studied from Earth.

The Space Debris Sensor will be sent to the ISS on a SpaceX rocket, which is scheduled for a Dec. 4 launch.

Space Debris Sensor

The U.S. space agency wants to know more about the tiny micro debris that orbits Earth, namely satellites' shattered splinters and paint flecks, which are quite damaging in orbit.

The SDS, which measures at one square meter, will be fixed to the ESA Columbus module that faces the ISS velocity vector. Once installed, it will study space junk tinier than a millimeter. It has various fine layers of material formed like a mesh that are embedded with thin sensors that will measure not only the debris' size but also its impact.

When space-junk moving at a fast pace collides with the fine mesh, they will snap multiple wires that correlate to the particle’s size, and the layers beneath will measure the debris’ trajectory and velocity.

The subsequent data gathered will help measure the trajectories of the debris in orbit, but more than that, it'll also provide information about their origins. Debris that has an elliptical orbit indicates a meteoroid origin and a circular orbit shows that it has been generated from an artificial satellite.

The SDS can also measure the micro-debris population’s density and produce a more accurate process to predict objects that are bigger than a millimeter but tinier than 10 cm or 3.93 inches.

Space Debris Impact

Even the smallest of dust-size particles traveling at a very high speed can be dangerous for satellites, and that is why researchers want to study micro-debris.

"If a satellite is in orbit for 10 or 15 years, those little abrasions can have an impact by degrading sensors or degrading materials on the satellite," said Brian Weeden, program planning director of Secure World Foundation.

The effects of micro space debris impact in the form of tiny abrasions and pockmarks are the only things that scientists can study right now, and these help them identify the object's size that caused the damage.

There is, however, limited information that can be obtained by studying such impacts. If the SDS is successful, then it can be used to observe the debris present around Earth at a height of 700 to 1000 km. For now, the SDS will study the space debris around the space station that orbits Earth at a height of 400 km.

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