Summary of the Workshop to Identify Gaps and
Possible Directions for NASA’s Meteoroid and Orbital
Committee for the Assessment of NASA’s Orbital Debris Programs
Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study is based on work supported by Contract NNH10CC48B between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Any views or observations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the agency that provided support for the project.
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Other Recent Reports of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
Final Report of the Committee to Review Proposals to the 2011 Ohio Third Frontier Wright Projects Program (OTF WPP) (Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board [ASEB], 2011)
Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era (Space Studies Board [SSB] with ASEB, 2011)
Advancing Aeronautical Safety: A Review of NASA’s Aviation Safety-Related Research Programs (SSB with ASEB, 2010)
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research (Laboratory Assessments Board with ASEB, 2010)
Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies: Final Report (SSB with ASEB, 2010)
Final Report of the Committee to Review Proposals to the 2010 Ohio Third Frontier (OTF) Wright Projects Program (WPP) (ASEB, 2010)
America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs (SSB with ASEB, 2009)
Approaches to Future Space Cooperation and Competition in a Globalizing World: Summary of a Workshop (SSB with ASEB, 2009)
An Assessment of NASA’s National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service (ASEB, 2009)
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (ASEB, 2009)
Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies: Interim Report (SSB with ASEB, 2009)
Radioisotope Power Systems: An Imperative for Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Space Exploration (SSB with ASEB, 2009)
Assessing the Research and Development Plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System: Summary of a Workshop (ASEB, 2008)
A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program (ASEB, 2008)
Launching Science: Science Opportunities Provided by NASA’s Constellation System (SSB with ASEB, 2008)
Managing Space Radiation Risk in the New Era of Space Exploration (ASEB, 2008)
NASA Aeronautics Research: An Assessment (ASEB, 2008)
Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program: An Interim Report (ASEB, 2008)
Science Opportunities Enabled by NASA’s Constellation System: Interim Report (SSB with ASEB, 2008)
United States Civil Space Policy: Summary of a Workshop (SSB with ASEB, 2008)
Wake Turbulence: An Obstacle to Increased Air Traffic Capacity (ASEB, 2008)
Limited copies of ASEB reports are available free of charge from
Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
National Research Council
The Keck Center of the National Academies
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COMMITTEE FOR THE ASSESSMENT OF NASA’S ORBITAL DEBRIS PROGRAMS
DONALD J. KESSLER, NASA (retired), Chair
GEORGE J. GLEGHORN, TRW Space and Technology Group (retired), Vice Chair
KYLE T. ALFRIEND, Texas A&M University
MICHAEL BLOOMFIELD, Oceaneering Space Systems
PETER BROWN, University of Western Ontario
RAMON L. CHASE, Booz Allen Hamilton
SIGRID CLOSE, Stanford University
JOANNE IRENE GABRYNOWICZ, National Center for Remote Sensing, Air, and Space Law, University of Mississippi
ROGER E. KASPERSON, Clark University
T.S. KELSO, Center for Space Standards and Innovation
MOLLY K. MACAULEY, Resources for the Future
DARREN S. McKNIGHT, Integrity Applications, Inc.
WILLIAM P. SCHONBERG, Missouri University of Science and Technology
PAUL JACKSON, Program Officer, Study Director
LEWIS B. GROSWALD, Research Associate
JOHN F. WENDT, Senior Program Officer
CATHERINE A. GRUBER, Editor
ANDREA M. REBHOLZ, Program Associate
DALAL NAJIB, Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellow
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board
AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ENGINEERING BOARD
RAYMOND S. COLLADAY, Lockheed Martin Astronautics (retired), Chair
LESTER LYLES, The Lyles Group, Vice Chair
ELLA M. ATKINS, University of Michigan
AMY L. BUHRIG, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group
INDERJIT CHOPRA, University of Maryland, College Park
JOHN-PAUL B. CLARKE, Georgia Institute of Technology
RAVI B. DEO, EMBR
VIJAY DHIR, University of California, Los Angeles
EARL H. DOWELL, Duke University
MICA R. ENDSLEY, SA Technologies
DAVID GOLDSTON, Harvard University
R. JOHN HANSMAN, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
JOHN B. HAYHURST, Boeing Company (retired)
WILLIAM L. JOHNSON, California Institute of Technology
RICHARD KOHRS, Independent Consultant
IVETT LEYVA, Air Force Research Laboratory, Edwards Air Force Base
ELAINE S. ORAN, Naval Research Laboratory
ALAN G. POINDEXTER, Naval Postgraduate School
HELEN R. REED, Texas A&M University
ELI RESHOTKO, Case Western Reserve University
EDMOND SOLIDAY, United Airlines (retired)
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director
CARMELA J. CHAMBERLAIN, Administrative Coordinator
TANJA PILZAK, Manager, Program Operations
CELESTE A. NAYLOR, Information Management Associate
CHRISTINA O. SHIPMAN, Financial Officer
SANDRA WILSON, Financial Assistant
The National Research Council (NRC), under the auspices of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, was asked by NASA Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance Bryan O’Connor to assess NASA’s meteoroid1 and orbital debris (MMOD) programs and provide recommendations on potential opportunities for enhancing their benefit to the nation’s space program. This request came at the urging of the White House Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and Technology Policy (see Appendix A).
The NRC assembled the Committee for the Assessment of NASA’s Orbital Debris Programs to review NASA’s existing efforts, policies, and organization with regard to meteoroids and orbital debris, including its efforts in the areas of modeling and simulation, detection and monitoring, protection, mitigation, reentry, collision assessment risk analysis and launch collision avoidance, interagency cooperation, international cooperation, and cooperation with the commercial space industry. The committee was also asked to provide its opinion as to whether NASA should initiate work in any new MMOD areas and to recommend whether the agency should increase or decrease effort in or change the focus of any of its current meteoroid or orbital debris efforts to improve their ability to serve NASA and other national and international activities. The committee was instructed to assume that the programs will be operating in a constrained budget environment (see Appendix B for the committee’s statement of task). Through a series of information-gathering meetings, including the workshop that is the subject of this report, the committee received briefings from representatives of NASA and other federal agencies and foreign space agencies, as well as from other experts in the fields of meteoroids, orbital debris, and aerospace technology.
Although the statement of task refers to a singular NASA program in this field, there are in fact numerous program elements spread across NASA mission centers that address MMOD. For the purposes of this report, these elements are referred to as NASA’s MMOD programs.2 The vast majority of NASA’s efforts fall within five program elements (the “programs”), which are:
• Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, NASA Headquarters: Provides top-level budget and programmatic management, technical oversight, and coordination within NASA and with other U.S. government entities; advocate to senior NASA management on MMOD;
• Orbital Debris Program Office, NASA Johnson Space Center: Performs many duties that are NASA-specific, interagency, and international in nature; within NASA, in charge of aiding all robotic and human spaceflight missions in determining compliance with NASA policy standards regarding orbital debris mitigation and responsible for technical evaluations of all orbital debris assessment reports and end-of-mission plans;
1 This report uses the word “meteoroid” according to its precise definition, rather than the term “micrometeoroid,” a colloquialism for “small” meteoroids, and an imprecise term that does not cover the full range of sizes or meteoroids. However, to avoid adding a new acronym to the literature and to minimize confusion, the committee retains use of the acronym “MMOD” (micrometeoroid and orbital debris) as a modifier (e.g., MMOD programs).
2 This term also reflects how the programs were referred to by many panelists and committee members at the workshop.
• Meteoroid Environment Office, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center: Responsible for the creation and stewardship of meteoroid environment models, tools, and documents relevant to spacecraft operations and design;
• Hypervelocity Impact Technology Group, NASA Johnson Space Flight Center: Works to decrease MMOD risk to crew, improve MMOD protection of NASA spacecraft, and decrease the amount of MMOD shielding in terms of cost, volume, and mass; and
• Robotic Conjunction Assessment Risk Analysis, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: Supports robotic missions by conducting risk assessments of possible collisions between spacecraft in orbit of the close approaches predicted by the U.S. Air Force Joint Space Command.
In addition to these established programs, the National Space Policy of the United States of America,3 released in 2010 (henceforth referred to as the 2010 National Space Policy), also calls for NASA to take on research and development into technologies related to orbital debris retrieval and removal. In addition to research and development, the policy also makes maintaining a sustainable space environment a long-term goal of the United States.
Because of the diversity and number of perspectives and entities involved in space activities within the United States, the committee held a public workshop on March 9-10, 2011, in Fairfax, Virginia, as an efficient way to hear from the various stakeholders. The workshop complements other data-gathering meetings held by the committee throughout the course of its study.
The committee’s statement of task calls for a summary of the workshop, which is the purpose of this report. The presentations and discussions that took place at the workshop are summarized in this report, although the committee does not offer any findings or recommendations. The committee will detail its findings and offer recommendations in its next, and final, report. The committee maintains responsibility for the overall quality and accuracy of the report as a record of what transpired at the workshop, but views and opinions contained in this workshop report were expressed by the presenters, attendees, or individual committee members as attributed and do not necessarily represent the views of the whole committee.
The committee heard from five panels of presenters at the workshop, each of which was composed of three to five members who spoke for a short period of time. Their names and affiliations are listed in Appendix C. Following the presentations, questions and comments were then solicited, first from the committee members and then from the audience, which consisted of government employees, academics, and representatives of the aerospace industry.
3National Space Policy of the United States of America, June 28, 2010, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/national_space_policy_6-28-10.pdf.
Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the National Research Council (NRC). The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
William Ailor, The Aerospace Corporation,
Ravi B. Deo, EMBR,
John L. Junkins, Texas A&M University,
Chris T.W. Kunstadter, XL Insurance, and
Michael F. Zedd, Naval Research Laboratory.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse any of the viewpoints or observations detailed in this report. The review of this report was overseen by M. Granger Morgan, Carnegie Mellon University. Appointed by the NRC, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
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