Space Debris: Problems and Mitigation Strategies

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Monday, 18 January 2010: 12:00 AM
B303 (GWCC)
T.S. Kelso, Center for Space Standards & Innovation, Colorado Springs, CO

Satellite operators must deal with a variety of environmental effects to ensure the successful operation of their satellite fleets. Increasingly, one of the major effects involves avoiding potential collisions resulting from the rapidly growing population of artificial debris in the space environment.

Since the dawn of the Space Age, over 3,300 spacecraft have been launched into Earth orbit and beyond, producing almost 17,000 pieces of debris large enough to be tracked by today's space surveillance networks. Current estimates are that there are more than half a million pieces of debris larger than 1 cm--large enough to cause significant damage even to the International Space Station.

This paper will address the historical growth of the current artificial debris population, including the implications of on-orbit collisions--such as the Iridium 33-Cosmos 2251 collision--on the near-Earth space environment. It will examine the long-term effects on the space environment of recent major debris-producing events and the interaction with atmospheric density. Finally, it will show how some of the major satellite operators are working together to share data in an effort to mitigate the risks associated with close approaches between satellites or with space debris.