PyBIRALES: A Radar Data Processing Backend for the Real-Time Detection of Space Debris

Speaker: Denis Cutajar (PhD Student), Institute of Space Sciences and Astronomy, University of Malta, Malta.

Abstract: Orbital debris objects pose an ever-increasing threat to active satellites as their orbit cannot be changed to avoid a collision. In recent years, various European institutions have been upgrading their space monitoring capabilities to address this threat. One of the latest such systems is the BIRALES space surveillance system based in Italy. This bi-static radar consists of a 10kW,  radio transmitter in Caligari, Sardinia and a phased array receiver consisting of eight parabolic cylindrical reflectors of the North-South arm of the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF)’s Northern Cross. It represents one of the first Italian radar systems designed for the monitoring of space debris objects.

This work introduces a new software backend, called PyBirales, which was developed for this novel space debris sensor. The system was designed to be a fast, highly configurable software backend for the radio telescope’s acquisition and processing system and whose monitoring and control can be realized by a simple front-end web-based application. The real-time detection of Resident Space Object (RSO) is an essential prerequisite for such a system. It gives the operator an immediate feedback loop on any detections while keeping the storage requirements at a minimum since the raw data can be discarded. The discovery of high-velocity objects is achieved through a specially developed data processing pipeline that can be built using the PyBirales framework. This detection pipeline uses the received antenna voltages to generate several beams, collectively known as a multipixel, covering the Field of View (FoV) of the instrument. The initial results on known objects represent the first steps in extending the growing network of European SST systems.