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data (e.g., data on previously uncataloged large debris) could help to identify the best methods with which to deal with the problem and the orbital regions at which these methods should be targeted.
This is not to suggest an effort to characterize all debris in all orbits; rather, characterization efforts should focus on gathering the information needed to fill critical data gaps. Previously, most measurements of the debris environment were made when opportunities arose. Although these measurements added greatly to our knowledge of the debris environment, and further ad hoc measurements will doubtless continue to add to our knowledge, future debris characterization efforts should focus on either (1) providing information that will be directly useful to spacecraft designers and operators, or (2) answering questions about the debris environment that will increase understanding of the population's long-term evolution.
Currently, the only national or international guidance on either the most important areas in the debris field to be investigated or potential methods to investigate these areas comes from the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), which is made up of representatives from ESA, the Russian Space Agency, space agencies from Japan, and NASA. To provide future guidance for debris research, the committee recommends the following:
Recommendation 1: An expanded international group should be formed to advise the space community about areas in the orbital debris field needing further investigation and to suggest potential investigation methods. This group, which could include representatives from industry and academia, as well as from governments, could build on the work of the IADC. The group could identify the highest-priority areas of interest to orbital debris researchers and spacecraft operators, the data required to understand each area, and potential methods to acquire the data.
The committee recommends the following as an interim set of debris characterization research priorities:
Recommendation 2a: Models of the future debris environment should be further improved by refining theoretical models, acquiring and incorporating new data to lessen uncertainties, and testing the models against new data. Ensuring that these models incorporate all major sources of debris and increasing the accuracy of breakup models (for both collisions and explosions) should be major components of this effort. Improving these models is crucial because potentially very expensive decisions on the adoption of debris mitigation measures depend on their conclusions. These decisions must be based on the best information possible.