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Stardust-The Asteroid and Space Debris Network

Final Report Summary - STARDUST (Stardust-The Asteroid and Space Debris Network)

Asteroids and space debris represent a significant hazard for space and terrestrial assets; at the same time asteroids represent also an opportunity. In recent years it has become clear that the increasing population of space debris could lead to catastrophic consequences in the near term.
Stardust was a unique training and research network devoted to develop and master techniques for asteroid and space debris monitoring, removal/deflection and exploitation. Stardust trained the 15 engineers and scientists to protect our planet, save our space assets, and turn the threat represented by asteroids and space debris in an opportunity. Stardust integrated multiple disciplines, from robotics, to applied mathematics, from computational intelligence to astrodynamics, to find practical and effective solutions to the asteroid and space debris issue.
The scientific program focused on a number of underpinning areas of research and development that are fundamental to any future and present initiative aiming at mitigating the threat posed by asteroids and space debris, and is divided into three major research areas: Modelling and Simulation, Orbit and Attitude Estimation and Prediction, and Active Removal/Deflection of Non-cooperative Targets.
The scientific achievements of Stardust went beyond expectations. The key major results of the research programme are:
• Stardust unlocked the secrets of chaos and resonances in Earth orbit drawing inspiration from the resonance mechanisms that affect the motion of asteroids in the solar system. This result allowed us to map regions of the space around the Earth where motion is chaotic and can lead to a fast decay of the orbit. This key results is instrumental to define passive debris deorbiting strategies and what can be defined as deorbiting highways that accelerate the orbit decay. Stardust covered all fundamental orbital regimes, Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO) and explained the potential instability of the motion of key assets in MEO (like the GPS constellation) and GEO. This result is fundamental to understand the motion of space debris with high area to mass ratio but also to define appropriate graveyard and end-of-life orbits.
• Stardust developed new fast approaches for preliminary orbit determination of asteroids and space debris that will allow the treatment of large databases and the determination of the orbits of objects starting from sparse measurements.
• Stardust introduced new techniques for the detumbling of space debris and asteroids using Eddy currents or laser ablation. It demonstrated the effectiveness of these technologies and their applicability to real mission scenarios.
• Stardust produced substantial advancements on the use of laser ablation for debris removal and asteroid manipulation and exploitation. It demonstrated, theoretically and experimentally, that this technique offers an effective and versatile solution, in many cases superior to most slow-push deflection methods.
• Stardust introduced new asteroid deflection concepts, like the Nuclear cycler, that allows for a more controllable deflection using nuclear explosions and delivered new insights in the applicability of other known deflection methods like the kinetic impactor and the gravity tractor.
• Stardust introduced the quantification of uncertainty in the study of the (re-)entry and demise of space debris and asteroids, and developed new fast and open source tools and methods to estimate the risk of an impact on ground. All these new advancements contributed to the development of an open source tool called FOSTRAD, freely available on request.
• Stardust developed new tools to allow decision maker to make informed decisions on the potential consequences of an impact with an asteroid. The software ARMOR was developed to quantify the total risk and damage on Earth.
• Stardust first discovered a first dark asteroid family residing in the Phocaea region and showed that the impact rate from the family is non-negligible and may be an important source for small dark impactors. For the first time compelling evidence for orbital evolution of small bodies caused by a secular resonance with an asteroid has been found and dynamical perturbations induced by the massive asteroids Ceres and Vesta on main-belt asteroids through secular resonances has been analysed in detail. Stardust demonstrated the effectiveness of secular resonance with Ceres in dispersion of asteroid families has been demonstrated for three of them, namely Hoffmeister, Astrid and Seinajoki families. Furthermore, Stardust found statistical evidence that no large asteroid families of primordial origin had formed in the middle or pristine zones of the main-belt.
The innovation introduced by Stardust was not limited to the research programme. Stardust implemented new approaches to training and the development of complementary skills via the creation of project Working Groups. PWGs were cross-disciplinary projects developed by teams of fellows on key open problems. PWGs encourage the collaboration among fellows and institutions within and out width Stardust.
Stardust introduced also effective and innovative outreach activities to communicate the scientific results to the general public and raise awareness on both asteroids and space debris. The results of the Stardust programme were presented at the United Nations, were used to develop Continues Professional Development courses to train teacher in STEM subjects, and toured around Europe as part of the Space for Art outreach initiative, born and developed within Stardust.
Throughout the research, training and outreach programmes Stardust grew beyond the initial network to incorporate institutions and research worldwide reached a total of more than 20 institutions across 4 continents and 11 countries.
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