Vol 22, No 11

Tracklet-to-object Matching for Climbing Starlink Satellites through Recursive Orbit Determination and Prediction

Bin Li, Lei Liu and Ji-Zhang Sang


Concerns for the collision risk involving Starlink satellites have motivated the interest in obtaining their accurate orbit knowledge. However, accurate orbit determination (OD) and prediction (OP) of Starlink satellites confront two main challenges: mismatching or missed matching of sparse tracklets to maneuvering satellites, and unknown or unmodeled orbit maneuvers. How to exactly associate a tracklet to the right satellite is the primary issue, since a maneuvering satellite does not follow the naturally evolving orbit during the maneuvering, while more tracklets are needed for developing an accurate orbit maneuver model. If these two challenges are not well addressed, it may lead to catalog maintenance failure or even loss of objects. This paper proposes a method to correctly match tracklets to the climbing Starlink satellites. It is based on the recursive OD and OP, in which the orbit maneuver is modeled and the thrust is estimated, such that the subsequent OP accuracy guarantees the correct match of tracklets shortly after the OD time. Experiments with climbing Starlink satellites demonstrate that the tracklets within three days of the last TLE (two-line element) are all correctly matched to the right satellites. With the matched tracklets, the thrust accelerations of climbing Starlink satellites can be precisely estimated through an orbit control approach, and the position prediction accuracy over 48 hours is at the level of a few kilometers, providing accurate orbit knowledge for reliable collision warning involving Starlink satellites.


celestial mechanics – methods: analytical – miscellaneous

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