Alnwick firm on mission to tackle space debris

An Alnwick company which specialises in space surveillance has teamed up with an observatory to tackle the growing problem of space debris.

Friday, 21st January 2022, 10:00 am
Kielder Observatory.
Kielder Observatory.

Northern Space and Security Limited (NORSS), a space situational awareness and space surveillance and tracking company, has taken advantage of the dark skies around Kielder Observatory, to site its LEO (Low Earth Orbit) Optical Camera Installation (LOCI).

Four cameras will track active satellites and space debris, such as defunct rocket bodies at the observatory.

Three will capture images of satellites in Low Earth orbit below 2,000km in altitude and one will track objects in deep space, out to approximately 36,000 km.

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Ralph ‘Dinz’ Dinsley pictured far right with his team from NORSS.

The cameras will feed the data back to the NORSS Orbital Analyst HIVE at Aykley Heads Business Centre, in Durham, and to its office in Sedgefield.

The data will be analysed to identify, track and monitor the behaviour of objects in space and to evaluate any potential collisions between satellites.

Ralph ‘Dinz’ Dinsley, executive director of NORSS, is a retired RAF officer with more than 32 years’ military service as an aerospace battle manager.

He said: “The UK is not an ideal location for optical systems, such as LOCI, but Kielder Observatory is superb as there is so little light pollution. It also provides an excellent opportunity to collaborate between the satellite tracking community and public astronomy community.

“Space debris is a growing problem and one that everyone involved in space operations from satellite regulators to those who operate them need to address. In the past, space debris has been the primary cause of possible collisions in orbit.

“The sustainability of space is NORSS’s mission, and we will always work tirelessly to support a cleaner space environment.”

Catherine Johns, chief executive of Kielder Observatory, added: “Space debris, such as redundant satellites, is a huge problem and there is no real idea as to the scale of the issue because there aren’t that many people with the technology to capture images of it. Even something the size of a grain of sand could do a great deal of damage up there.

“Having this technology at Kielder is an educational asset for us as we really want people to think about the space environment in the same way that we talk about the effects of light pollution.

"We’re often asked about whether the number of satellites is bad for the night sky, and it does affect what we can see, but by capturing these images, it can act as a conversation starter between the astronomy community and the satellite industry.”

Dinz set up NORSS in Alnwick in May 2017 to deliver specialist support to space flight operators, providing advice on technical, operational and policy matters regarding the sustainable use of space.

He has been joined at the helm by Sean Goldsbrough, previously the UK Space Agency’s (UKSA) first senior orbital analyst, and Dr Adam White, as operations director and technical director respectively.

NORSS has tripled the number of employees to 16 over the past 18 months alone, with plans to recruit more people in the near future.

The company is currently working with a number of Government department, providing technical support on the regulation and licencing of UK satellites and supporting military satellite operations. NORSS also works with satellite operators across the world to assist in spaceflight safety.

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