Research in Engineering and Aviation

The Argus Mission: Detecting Thruster Plumes for Space Situational Awareness

March 2011

Author(s): M. Swartwout, S. Jayaram

“The Argus Mission:  Detecting Thruster Plumes for Space Situational Awareness”, IEEE Aerospace Conference, 2011.


The growing capability for proximity-operations missions requires a new capability in Space Situational Awareness (SSA): detecting the presence of other spacecraft operating within 2-5 km of a high-value asset. While significant effort is being devoted to visible-wavelength observation using ground-based systems, we believe that multi-spectral imaging (e.g., long-wavelength infrared, visible and ultraviolet) and particle impact detectors (e.g., mass spectrometers) could be used for in-situ detection of the thruster plumes of spacecraft entering an observational orbit around the high-value asset as well as maintaining it.