Identification and Orbit Determination of Tethered Satellites

Loading... a nice painting/picture of the earth from space

A tethered satellite system is comprised of two or more satellites that are connected with a tether (which is a high tech rope). These systems present a challenge to tracking systems and software, because the end bodies do not follow the same orbital motion as a conventional satellite. This project developes the software necessary to take observations from ground based sensors and determine if an orbitting object is a tethered satellite.


  • Orbit Determination
  • Tethered Satellites

Project Timeline

  • Project Began: January 1, 2009
  • Project Ended: January 1, 2010


Principal Investigators:


Wait for it! A picture of a spacecraft and planet surface...

Results and Impacts

Obtaining accurate knowledge of the objects orbiting the earth, or "space situational awareness," is essential for national security. The USAF tracks over 10,000 objects in order to keep track of what other nations are doing in space and make sure that nothing collides with our satellites. In extreme cases, the motion of the end body of a tethered satellite can appear to be on a suborbital trajectory impacting the earth. The software developed in this project will help to avoid avoid mistaking a tethered satellite for some sort of threat.

Click to see a larger graph of the radial distance vs. time
Click to enlarge
Comparison of estimate and
observational data for the TiPS satellite.


"Apparent Impacting Trajectories, Identification, and Orbit Determination of Tethered Satellite Systems", Curtis H. Stanley, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Master's Thesis, 2010.


Page last edited by JI on 7-20-11