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SpaceDebECM — Result In Brief

Project ID: 302270
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: Italy

Space safety is no accident

As the space debris population continuously increases, the probability of collisions grows. EU-funded researchers have simulated collision scenarios with different initial conditions to identify which orbit parameters have the largest effect on collision probability.
Space safety is no accident
Around Earth, it is estimated that there are more than 500 000 objects larger than 1 cm and more than 10 million objects larger than 1 mm. Objects of this size cannot be stopped by shields of the International Space Station (ISS) and can interfere with the operations of spacecraft in orbit.

However, small debris objects cannot be tracked with current radar technology. Even if new radar technologies will be able to detect them, the amount of data for all possible colliding particles will prohibit any piece-by-piece study of their orbit evolution.

Researchers working on the EU-funded project SPACEDEBECM (Space debris evolution, collision risk, and mitigation) proposed a different approach based on the definition of fragments density. This formulation of the problem allowed the adoption of analytical methods for the study of space debris long-term evolution.

A model of the whole population of space debris in different orbital regions was developed to describe the density evolution. Differential algebra techniques were employed for the density description and semi-analytical techniques, implemented in the PlanODyn tool, were used to calculate the long-term orbit evolution.

The new model treating the fragments as fluid captures the motion of a large number of tiny debris much faster than using conventional methods. The researchers used density maps produced to identify 'sink' orbits and to assess the collision risk to spacecraft orbiting Earth.

This work showed that a cloud of small-sized debris generated by the break-up of a spacecraft in orbit increases the risk for other spacecraft in the vicinity. In particular, the debris of Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 (DMSP-F13), which blew apart on 3 February 2015, could hit satellites residing in Sun-synchronous and polar orbits.

The density model was also applied to describe the deployment, evolution and performances of large constellations of CubeSats, an emerging trend for space applications. The researchers analysed different options for clearing end-of-life libration point orbits and highly elliptical orbits where future missions are planned to be placed.

Space surrounding Earth is densely populated by an increasing number of debris, most of which have been generated by the break-up of operational or abandoned spacecraft. The SPACEDEBECM project has offered a deeper insight into the dynamics of tiny debris fragments and their contribution to collision risk in our planet's space environment.

Related information


Space safety, space debris, orbit, radar technology, SPACEDEBECM, collision risk
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