Space Domain Awareness

Space domain awareness from space

We live in a tightly connected world of increasing reach and complexity, where integration of terrestrial and non-terrestrial communication and sensing networks to gather and exchange information in a persistent way without natural barriers has already started. Our dependence on the intelligence and communication capabilities provided by space-based assets defines the need to provide fast and actionable automatic assessment of high value space infrastructure assets, first of all large, strategically interconnected communication satellites, space telescopes, navigation, surveillance and weather monitoring satellites, where any disruption of operational ability would result in a dramatic downfall of the core services for governments, commerce and defence. This drives the need for improved Space Domain Awareness (SDA).

We in MISL are developing new space domain capability based on Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) operating at extremely high frequencies (W-band and above), to obtain high resolution imagery to characterize all space residents (other satellites and debris) from in-orbit.


Our MISL group is leading on research into space-borne radar systems for SDA, with a focus on the utility of high frequency bands.

High frequency (sub-THz) radar is uniquely suited for SDA, as it is sensitive to texture and able to detect small features with a resolution in the order of centimetres, at up to 100km range. It does not require the target to be illuminated, and requires much smaller hardware: at 100km, attaining 2cm resolution requires a 30cm diameter radar antenna – compared to 30m required for an optical telescope. Spaceborne radar also has the unique ability to image satellites from their non-Earth facing side, gathering information that would otherwise be unknown.

With the number of spacecraft in orbit exponentially increasing, there is an increasing interest in the capability to monitor high-value assets in space. According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), there are upwards of 11,000 satellites in orbit as of June 2023 – almost 4000 more than two years previously. As the number of satellites in orbit increases dramatically, so too does the need for their identification and classification, and the ability to make autonomous decisions based on their positions and condition.

Concept and design

Within 12 months of the project SubTERIS, funded by DASA/DSTL, we laid a foundation and showed the feasibility of ISAR imagery for observation of satellites from other satellites on circular orbits with fixed beam antenna operating at sub-THz frequencies up to ranges of 100 km (Fig 1) (E. Marchetti et al. 2022).

In the subsequent project MARS (DASA/DSTL), led by MISL together with Airbus D&S and Electrodynamic Solutions, the initial concept has been significantly extended and novel solutions proposed. Important outcomes of MARS are:

  1. The synthetic hybrid simulator GEIST which uses ray-tracing rendering techniques, available through open-source Blender platform combined with physical optics.
  2. Inference approaches based on image segmentation and rule based expert system, which lay a foundation of analytics methods to be used in the Guardian project (Fig 2) (E. Marchetti et al. 2023).

In the new STAR project, funded by the UK Space Agency, we will develop a fractal tracking antenna for persistent observation of GEO satellites.

Portfolio of Projects

  • 2019-2020, SUBTERIS  - Long Range Sub-Terahertz Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar for Recognition of Space Objects from Space  - Phase I, Defence And Security Accelorator (DASA)
  • 2021-2022, MARS - Multi-Dimensional ISAR Imagery  From Space To Space – Alpha Drop, DASA
  • 2023-2024, STAR - Sub-Terahertz Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) for monitoring of GEO assets – UK Space Agency (UKSA)
  • 2024-2027, SBISAR - Multi-dimensional quantum-enabled sub-THz space-borne ISAR for Space Domain Awareness and critical infrastructure monitoring – UKRI, EPSRC


  1. E. Marchetti, E. Hoare, M. Cherniakov and M. Gashinova, "Electromagnetic simulator based on graphical computing and physical optics for sub-THz ISAR imagery of space objects," 2023 24th International Radar Symposium (IRS), Berlin, Germany, 2023, pp. 1-9, doi: 10.23919/IRS57608.2023.10172450.
  2. E. Marchetti, A. G. Stove, E. G. Hoare, M. Cherniakov, D. Blacknell and M. Gashinova, "Space-Based Sub-THz ISAR for Space Situational Awareness—Concept and Design," in IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, vol. 58, no. 3, pp. 1558-1573, 2022, doi: 10.1109/TAES.2021.3126375.
  3. E. Marchetti, A. Stove, E. Hoare, M. Cherniakov and M. Gashinova, "Images of satellite elements with a space-borne Sub-THz ISAR system," 2021 18th European Radar Conference (EuRAD), London, United Kingdom, 2022, pp. 425-428, doi: 10.23919/EuRAD50154.2022.9784477.
  4. E. Marchetti, A. Stove, M. Cherniakov, M. Gashinova and D. Blacknell, "Space-borne Sub-THz ISAR System for Objects with Translational Motion," 2020 IEEE Radar Conference (RadarConf20), Florence, Italy, 2020, pp. 1-6, doi: 10.1109/RadarConf2043947.2020.9266365.
  5. S. Hristov et al., "Ship detection using inmarsat BGAN signals," International Conference on Radar Systems (Radar 2017), Belfast, 2017, pp. 1-4, doi: 10.1049/cp.2017.0422.
  6. X. Lyu, S. Hristov, M. Gashinova, A. Stove and M. Cherniakov, "Ambiguity function analysis of the Inmarsat I-4 and Iridium signals," International Conference on Radar Systems (Radar 2017), Belfast, 2017, pp. 1-4, doi: 10.1049/cp.2017.0510.
  7. L. Daniel, S. Hristov, X. Lyu, A. G. Stove, M. Cherniakov and M. Gashinova, "Design and Validation of a Passive Radar Concept for Ship Detection Using Communication Satellite Signals," in IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, vol. 53, no. 6, pp. 3115-3134, 2017, doi: 10.1109/TAES.2017.2728978.
  8. A. G. Stove, M. S. Gashinova, S. Hristov and M. Cherniakov, "Passive Maritime Surveillance Using Satellite Communication Signals," in IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, vol. 53, no. 6, pp. 2987-2997, 2017, doi: 10.1109/TAES.2017.2722598.

PhD opportunities

Please see the opportunities page for current projects.