changes in the environment, and possibly to identifying the sources of those changes. Such in situ sensors are also likely to contribute to understanding spacecraft anomalies, as discussed in Chapter 10, “Spacecraft Anomalies.”
Given the potential for rapid growth in the debris population, it is necessary to have a robust measurement program in place for detecting changes in the orbital debris environment quickly, and to increase the number of mitigation and remediation options available for use. If such a measurement program had been in place at the beginning of the space program, the consequences of explosions in orbit would likely have been detected, and mitigation guidelines put in place, much earlier. Similarly, early detection of the consequences of collisions in orbit might prompt a quicker recognition of the need for remediation actions.
Finding: NASA’s orbital debris programs do not include the capability to monitor with in situ instrumentation the penetrating flux of objects smaller than a few millimeters. Data collected by in situ monitoring could be used to resolve uncertainties in measurements made remotely, to help identify new sources of debris, and to provide clues to the causes of spacecraft anomalies.