Reflectance Spectral Characterization and Taxonomy Applications of Spacecraft Materials to Aid Space Situational Awareness

Jacqueline Andrea Reyes, University of Texas at El Paso


The increasing number of space missions involving successfully deployed spacecraft have resulted in an augmented density of artificial objects positioned in orbital domains near Earth. With this steady accumulation of objects in space, it has become increasingly imperative to characterize spacecraft materials, which may ultimately be contributors to the orbital debris population. In an effort to identify unique material-specific spectroscopic markers, a variety of spacecraft materials frequently utilized in the aerospace industry to construct typical spacecraft were analyzed using reflectance spectroscopy as a characterization technique for assessment on material type according to optical features. This is significant in providing information to contribute toward the comprehensive space situational awareness (SSA) aspect. Spectral measurements of selected materials analyzed in their pristine and laboratory simulated space-weathered conditions are presented in this work. These data provide a spectral characterization baseline for modern-day and historical spacecraft materials and are compared to each other to distinguish spectra of materials belonging to different classifications with an effort of grouping them according to a color index. The potential to assess materials remotely by a means of classification can provide a degree of information regarding the hazards associated with debris objects for further risk mitigation if necessary. This approach was taken by calculating color index from reflectance spectra of common spacecraft materials in their pristine conditions that fell under different family groupings. Color index was determined using various established and arbitrary filter passbands to evaluate the possibility of isolating or distinguishing materials from one another by means of optical measurements depending upon passbands chosen. From this analysis, it was found that polyimide and photovoltaic materials resulted in distinguishability from all other materials most often depending upon the color index combinations used. While the silicon-based solar cell demonstrated effective separability from other materials when using classic filter passbands to calculate for color index, the germanium-based solar cell and polyimide exhibited better discrimination when calculating color index using theoretical filter passbands created in this study.

Subject Area

Materials science

Recommended Citation

Reyes, Jacqueline Andrea, "Reflectance Spectral Characterization and Taxonomy Applications of Spacecraft Materials to Aid Space Situational Awareness" (2022). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI29324652.