Document Type


Publication Date



In this paper, we investigate the ability of the Arecibo Observatory to characterize the orbital debris environment and compare it to the primary instrument used by NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office, the Haystack Ultra-Wideband Satellite Imaging Radar (HUSIR). Arecibo's location (183 N) increases the percentage of observable orbits (relative to HUSIR) by 27%, which gives Arecibo access to a much larger and previously unmeasured portion of the environment. Due to the recent collapse of the Arecibo dish, in addition to exploring historic capabilities of the Legacy Arecibo Telescope, estimates of the performance of the proposed Next Generation Arecibo Telescope (NGAT) are explored. We show that the current NGAT design could have a sensitivity comparable to the Goldstone Orbital Debris Radar, currently NASA's most sensitive orbital debris radar. Additionally, design suggestions are presented that would significantly improve the capabilities of the NGAT for orbital debris investigations. We show that, with appropriate hardware upgrades, it would be possible to achieve a minimum-detectable debris size as small as 1 mm. These capabilities would allow data from Arecibo to significantly improve short-term debris environment models, which are used to inform spacecraft design and operations, particularly for orbital debris smaller than 3 mm, which pose the highest penetration risk to most spacecraft.


© 2022. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Publication Title

The Planetary Science Journal







To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.