IARPA Launches Ambitious Effort to Track Micro Space Debris

IARPA Launches Ambitious Effort to Track Micro Space Debris


ODNI News Release No. 21-23

August 1, 2023


IARPA Launches Ambitious Effort to Track Micro Space Debris


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) — the advanced research and development arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — today launched a program that aims to revolutionize our nation's ability to detect, track, and characterize miniature orbital space debris.


The Space Debris Identification and Tracking (SINTRA) program represents the Intelligence Community’s first effort to track small space debris. Resulting technologies hold the potential to protect manned spacecraft and other valuable space assets from these compact threats, which are difficult to detect and track and can cause significant damage, making space missions safer for all countries and industries using earth’s orbit


SINTRA aims to create innovations that:


  • Bridge gaps in current space debris-monitoring systems, which currently only track and monitor debris greater than 10 cm in size or model the distribution of debris less than 1 mm in size; and
  • Enhance small debris-tracking capabilities with existing sensors, such as ground-based radar, tracking satellites, and optical sensors.


“The global economy, telecommunications, and security rely on constant satellite connectivity,” said SINTRA Program Manager, Dr. Alexis Truitt. “Discovering new ways to understand the millions of man-made debris objects orbiting the earth, especially since they are ever-increasing in number, has never been more critical to everyday life.”


Through a competitive Broad Agency Announcement, IARPA awarded SINTRA research contracts to the following four prime contractors, which together with sub-contractors bring a group of 12 academic and private-sector organizations into the program


  • A-Tech, LLC
  • Advanced Space, LLC
  • SRI International
  • West Virginia University Research Corporation


The SINTRA test and evaluation team consists of MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Naval Research Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.


The SINTRA program is anticipated to be a four-year effort.


IARPA invests in high-risk, high-payoff research programs to tackle some of the most difficult challenges of the agencies and disciplines in the Intelligence Community. Additional information on IARPA and its research may be found on www.iarpa.gov.