Proof of concept for a smart composite orbital debris detector

Mario Emanuele De Simone, Christos Andreades, Amin Mohamad Hilmi, Michele Meo, Francesco Ciampa

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Space debris particles with dimensions smaller than tens of millimetres are not trackable with existing monitoring systems and have sufficient energy to harm orbiting Earth satellites during impact events. This paper presents a proof-of-concept for an in-situ smart carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) composite orbital debris detector that is capable of localising space debris impacts on Earth satellites and measuring the direction and velocity of debris particles. This spacecraft detection system can be used to warn satellites about the impact occurrence and to enhance current Space Surveillance Networks by providing a catalogue of debris objects. The proposed orbital debris detector consists of two thin parallel CFRP composite plates, each instrumented with three piezoelectric transducers embedded into the laminate. The localisation method is based on the measurement of acoustic emissions generated by debris impacts on the CFRP plates, which are processed with the time reversal algorithm. The calculation of the direction of debris particles and their speed are accomplished by determining the arrival time of acquired signals and the speed of waves propagating within each CFRP plate. Experimental results showed accurate estimation of the impact location, direction and velocity, thus demonstrating the potential use of the proposed orbital debris detector in future Earth satellite systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-508
Number of pages10
JournalActa Astronautica
Early online date26 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • Composite materials
  • Embedded sensors
  • Impact localisation
  • Space debris
  • Time reversal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering


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