A graphical representation of of a satelite being scanned by radar
Space-bourne radar

The EPSRC has just announced funding for University of Birmingham cutting-edge research project “Multi-dimensional quantum-enabled sub-THz Space-Borne ISAR sensing for Space Domain Awareness (SDA) and critical infrastructure monitoring – SBISAR”.

This £2m project will be led by Professor Marina Gashinova, Head of the Pervasive Sensing Group in the Microwave Integrated System Laboratory (MISL) and a team of world-leading academics from MISL: Professor Marco Martorella, Professor Mike Cherniakov, Dr Mike Antoniou, Dr Beth Jelfs from the School of Engineering and Dr Leah-Nani Alconcel from the School of Metallurgy and Materials. The project will position the University of Birmingham at the forefront of space-borne radar research.

We live in a highly connected world of increasing reach and complexity. The integration of terrestrial and non-terrestrial communication and sensing networks to gather and exchange information has already started. But with this greater dependence on the capabilities provided by space-based infrastructure comes an explosion in the population growth of space residents. Hence, the risks from either impact with space objects or debris, or hostile activity intended to re-purpose the satellite, or its whole network, will only increase. Therefore, there is a requirement to provide fast and actionable automatic assessment of high value space assets. For example, any disruption in the operational capability of large, strategically interconnected communication satellites, space telescopes, navigation, surveillance and weather monitoring satellites, would result in a dramatic downfall of the core services for governments, commerce and defence.

The recent AUKUS announcement that the is moving to the next stage highlights the benefits of radar for monitoring space-based assets. DARC will provide monitoring of space from the ground up to 36,000 km. In contrast, our SBISAR project will lay a foundation for a new capability for multi-perspective monitoring of dynamic space environments from space. The system will be able to track potential hazards, image and characterize the space residents at ranges and from aspects unavailable from Earth, and with a resolution unachievable from Earth.

The project’s ambitious goal is to undertake multi-disciplinary fundamental and applied studies to develop this space-based radar technology with the focus on:

  • Co-operative Space Domain Awareness (CoSDA) based on quantum-enabled distributed space-borne radar
  • The use of sub-THz frequencies to provide high-fidelity 3D imagery of multi-scale manmade objects and clusters of debris
  • Development of robust deep-learning classification and recognition approaches for characterization and detection of anomalies in appearance or behaviour of the asset being monitored.

All developed datasets, models, and algorithms will form the basis of an end-to end holistic physics-based ISAR simulator to validate the concept for the future technology roadmap.

The project’s partners are the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing based at University of Birmingham, QinetiQ, In-Space Missions, CNIT, Deimos, German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and Fraunhofer FHR who will provide specialist input in all technical areas and steer the research to maximize impact.