Success in space flight operations is often difficult due to the harsh space environment. Naturally-occurring charged particles and other cosmic radiation cause short and long-term issues with on-board electronics and mechanical mechanisms; extensive amounts of UV light degrade satellite surface treatments; and the extremes of heat and cold challenge satellite designs. Additionally, self-induced issues involving design, construction, testing, launching, and monitoring can result in premature satellite failures, so the odds are stacked against full mission success for many resource constrained space missions. Of particular concern is the growing number of very small satellites (CubeSats) launched en masse that for a variety of reasons are never identified or brought online because of early on-orbit failure. As the number of massed CubeSat launches rises, and the number of CubeSats per launch increases due to flight opportunities brought about by launch consolidators, the number of CubeSats deployed that are “dead on arrival” (DOA) increases. Beyond the heartbreak this brings to the owner/operator teams, DOA CubeSats violate guidelines and best practices designed to decrease the amount of space debris* in orbit. This paper investigates the detailed nature of this rather paradoxical problem, in which the inability to identify (ID) a satellite may cause its early demise and a non-functioning CubeSat may be difficult to ID, adding to the confusion. To mitigate this problem the paper will examine a number of regulatory, systems engineering, and technical solutions involving low-cost means to facilitate identification of CubeSats after launch along with planned flight demonstrations of some of these techniques and technologies. The desired outcome is to outline a practical means to independently identify space objects.
Dr. Mark Skinner joined The Aerospace Corporation in 2017 as a Senior Project Leader for Space Traffic Management, in Crystal City, VA, in support of the development of civil and commercial space traffic management. Prior to joining The Aerospace Corporation, Skinner was with the Boeing Company, heading up the commercial space situational awareness group, conducting research into observational and analysis techniques to advance the state of the art in space surveillance, and in developing infrared sensing and characterization techniques of resident space objects.
Skinner is internationally recognized as a researcher in space object characterization and commercial space situational awareness and specializes in the techniques of non-resolved object characterization (NROC) and non-imaging space object identification (NISOI) and has extended this research into both the infrared and time domain arenas. His current research focus is on solving pressing problems related to STM, including the tracking and identification of small objects, and mitigating the problems related to early-orbit tracking and identification of CubeSats and nanosats.
For eight years, he supported the US delegation to the UN COPUOS Working Group on the Long Term Sustainable use of outer space in the successful development of guidelines and best practices, as an expert on space debris and space situational awareness.
Skinner received a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics, and a Bachelor of Science in the Humanities and Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received a Doctor of Philosophy in experimental astrophysics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Masters of Business Administration from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.
Skinner is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the International Institute of Space Law, the International Astronautical Association, and the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety. He also serves on the Technical Advisory Committee of the Space Environment Research Centre.