Improving orbital accuracy of space debris is one of the major prerequisite to performing reliable collision prediction in
low earth orbit. The objective is to avoid false alarms and useless maneuvers for operational satellites. This paper shows
how laser ranging on debris can improve the accuracy of orbit determination.
In March 2012 a joint OCA-Astrium team had the first laser echoes from space debris using the MéO (Métrologie
Optique) telescope of the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur (OCA), upgraded with a nanosecond pulsed laser. The
experiment was conducted in full compliance with the procedures dictated by the French Civil Aviation Authorities.
To perform laser ranging measurement on space debris, the laser link budget needed to be improved. Related technical
developments were supported by implementation of a 2J pulsed laser purchased by ASTRIUM and an adapted photo
detection. To achieve acquisition of the target from low accuracy orbital data such as Two Lines Elements, a 2.3-degree
field of view telescope was coupled to the original MéO telescope 3-arcmin narrow field of view. The wide field of view
telescope aimed at pointing, adjusting and acquiring images of the space debris for astrometry measurement. The
achieved set-up allowed performing laser ranging and angular measurements in parallel, on several rocket stages from
After a brief description of the set-up, development issues and campaigns, the paper discusses added-value of laser
ranging measurement when combined to angular measurement for accurate orbit determination. Comparison between
different sets of experimental results as well as simulation results is given.