radar. The examination of all spacecraft surfaces returned from space, including all space shuttles, resulted in the identification of impacts on these surfaces from both meteoroids and orbital debris.5 NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD) established a working group, sharing resources and information,6 and beginning in 1992, NASA worked with DOD to use a series of hypervelocity tests conducted by DOD to characterize the fragments produced from collisions in orbit.7 DOD’s meteoroid and orbital debris (MMOD) efforts and the responsible parties are described in Box 1.1.

In its early stages the NASA program developed education programs and organized workshops in order to share information from other groups. When it became evident that upper-stage rocket explosions were a major debris producer, bilateral meetings began between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) in 1987. By 1991, NASA had also met with space agencies in the USSR, Japan, and China, where each major space agency quickly and informally agreed to the concept of operational procedures for minimizing the possibility of future explosions in orbit.8 These multilateral meetings led to the formal establishment of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), under which each major space agency reaffirmed its agreement to these operational procedural concepts that minimize the possibility of future explosions in orbit. NASA also participated in national and international scientific conferences such as those sponsored by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and the American Astronautical Society (AAS), which led to sessions at those conferences devoted totally to orbital debris studies.

The orbital debris program became a major contributor to the design of a safer International Space Station (ISS)9 and supported the space shuttle10 program to bring it up to the safety standards of the ISS. NASA also supported DOD operations so that certain tests could be safely conducted in space. By 1995, the NASA program had established a comprehensive set of mitigation guidelines. Although these guidelines applied only to NASA programs, they were shared with other national and international agencies for their consideration.

Since the mid-1990s, those mitigation guidelines have been accepted not only by NASA, but also by other U.S. and international agencies.11 Membership in the IADC increased and has contributed to a major exchange of data when the IADC meets annually. Other countries now have their own environment models, observation programs, and hypervelocity testing programs. At the recommendation of the IADC, the United Nations has now adopted the intent of the NASA guidelines.12

Beginning in the late 1990s, the orbital debris program began to expand into several programs that are today collectively referred to as “NASA’s MMOD programs.” The activities of environment definition and debris mitigation became the Orbital Debris Program Office (ODPO) at JSC. Spacecraft shielding and the examination of returned spacecraft surfaces are organized under what is known as the Hypervelocity Impact Technology Facility (HITF; at JSC). The Meteoroid Environment Office (MEO) was formed at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in 2004 (see the section “Meteoroids” below). Early work to come up with a probabilistic approach to active avoidance of collision with cataloged debris grew into operational activities for the ISS; that approach has grown into


5 National Research Council, Orbital Debris: A Technical Assessment, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995.

6 National Science and Technology Council Committee on Transportation Research and Development, Interagency Report on Orbital Debris, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, D.C., November 1995, available at http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/library/IAR_95_Document.pdf, accessed July 6, 2011.

7 D.M. Hogg, T.M Cunningham, and W.M. Isbell, Final Report on the SOCIT Series of Hypervelocity Impact Tests, Report No. WL-TR-93-7025, Wright Laboratory, Armament Directorate, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, July 1993.

8 Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee, Terms of Reference for the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), IADC-93-01, October 4, 2006, available at http://www.iadc-online.org/index.cgi?item=torp_pdf, accessed July 6, 2011.

9 National Research Council, Protecting the Space Station from Meteoroids and Orbital Debris, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 1997, available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=5532.

10 National Research Council, Protecting the Space Station from Meteoroids and Orbital Debris, 1997.

11 Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee, Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, IADC-02-01, revision 1, September 2007, available at http://www.iadc-online.org/index.cgi?item=docs_pub.

12 United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, United Nations, New York, N.Y., 2010, available at http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/library/Space%20Debris%20Mitigation%20Guidelines_COPUOS.pdf.

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