The German Aerospace Center (DLR) now has the largest telescope for observing and characterizing objects in Earth orbit. The Johannes Kepler Observatory was inaugurated today, Wednesday, in Empfingen, south of Stuttgart. Using modern laser technology, it can determine the trajectory and nature of space debris quickly, precisely and reliably. Among other things, the data could then be used to protect active satellites from collisions. The instrument cost a total of 2.5 million euros, the money comes from the DLR and the Federal Ministry of Economics.
Recognize the composition
According to DLR, the new observatory has a primary mirror with a diameter of 1.75 meters. It is housed in a 15 meter high round tower with a rotating dome. The so-called slit dome rotates synchronously with the telescope, both can be tracked at up to six degrees per second. This is a technological challenge, but necessary in order to be able to analyze objects up to ten centimeters in size, which race around the earth at up to 28,000 km/h. The device can therefore also carry out spectral analyzes in order to determine the color composition of the objects. In this way, for example, it was determined in the spring that an object on a collision course with the moon in China had been painted.
With the new observatory, DLR wants to help to get as complete an overview as possible of the space debris in Earth orbit. Based on model calculations, it is currently assumed that there are around one million parts in orbit that are larger than one centimeter. According to the DLR, around 30,000 of them should be visible to the telescope. There it is assumed that hitherto unknown objects can be found and described. With laser technology, individual objects can be researched more closely, if necessary, and their path can be precisely determined with it. This data can then be used to decide whether an evasive maneuver is necessary in view of an impending collision.
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