Wake Forest professor's research helps identify and track space debris
February 16, 2009
A Wake Forest University professor is available to discuss how his research into identifying objects in space is helping track the debris left from the collision of two large satellites this week.
The challenge of getting a clear image of objects in space in order to identify them and understand what they are there for has been a lifelong interest for Robert Plemmons, Z. Smith Reynolds Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics at Wake Forest University. Plemmons has been working on the challenge of identifying objects in space since 1983 with funding from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. One big challenge, he says, is getting a clear image of the space object through the turbulence of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Two large satellites collided in Earth’s orbit on Feb. 10, leaving trails of debris in space that may threaten other satellites and the Hubble Space Telescope. Specialists at the Maui Air Force Space Surveillance Center are monitoring the clouds of debris in order to identify the pieces and project their path.
Using a variety of imaging systems and computer algorithms, Plemmons is able to identify the composition of a tiny piece of debris in space and what it came from using information as small as a single pixel of information. His ongoing work is also funded by U.S. intelligence agencies, and is being used by Air Force and NASA specialists following the debris clouds from the satellites.
Plemmons is available to discuss how his research fits into the larger picture of identifying space objects, how his work is helping the specialists identify and track space objects and the computational methods he uses to identify individual space objects.