NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
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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 competencies and with regard for appropriate balance.
This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.
This study was supported by Grant NAGW 3414 between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Space Debris.
Orbital debris : a technical assessment/Committee on Space Debris, Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems, National Research Council.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Space debris. I. Title.
Copyright 1995 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Cover Illustration: Location of cataloged space objects as of 9:12 p.m. on December 15, 1993. Each dot represents one cataloged space object. Source: Prepared by Kaman Sciences Corporation based on U.S. Space Command Satellite Catalog.
COMMITTEE ON SPACE DEBRIS
George Gleghorn Chairman, Vice-President and Chief Engineer (Ret.),
TRW Space and Technology Group, Rancho Palos Verdes, California, USA
James Asay, Manager,
Technology Transfer Department, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Dale Atkinson, President and CEO,
POD Associates, Inc., Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Walter Flury, Head,
Mission Analysis Section, European Space Operations Center, Darmstadt, Germany
Nicholas Johnson, Principal Scientist,
Engineering Sciences Division, Kaman Sciences Corporation, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
Donald Kessler, Senior Scientist for Orbital Debris Research,
Solar System Exploration Division, Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, USA
Stephen Knowles, Technical Advisor,
Naval Space Command, Dahlgren, Virginia, USA
Dietrich Rex, Department Head,
Institut für Raumflugtechnik und Reaktortechnik, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Braunschweig, Germany
Susumu Toda, Head,
Structural Dynamics Lab, National Aerospace Laboratory, Tokyo, Japan
Space Research Center Kosmos, Moscow, Russia
Robert Warren, Spacecraft Manager,
RADARSAT Project, Ottawa, Canada
JoAnn Clayton, ASEB Director
Paul Shawcross, Study Director
Mary McCormack, Senior Project Assistant
William Campbell, Administrative Assistant
Susan Coppinger, Administrative Assistant
Maria Kneas, Project Assistant
AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ENGINEERING BOARD
Jack L. Kerrebrock, Chairman, R.C. Maclaurin Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
Steven Aftergood, Senior Research Analyst,
Federation of American Scientists, Washington, D.C.
Joseph P. Allen, President and Chief Executive Officer,
Space Industries International, Inc., Washington, D.C.
Guion S. Bluford, Jr., Vice President and General Manager,
Engineering Services Division, NYMA, Inc., Brook Park, Ohio
John K. Buckner, Vice President,
Special Projects, Lockheed Fort Worth Company, Fort Worth, Texas
Raymond S. Colladay, Vice President,
Business Development and Advanced Programs, Martin Marietta Astronautics, Denver, Colorado
Ruth M. Davis, President and Chief Executive Officer,
Pymatuning Group, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia
Steven M. Dorfman, President,
Hughes Telecommunications & Space Company, General Motors Hughes Electronics, Los Angeles, California
Donald C. Fraser, Director,
Center for Photonics Research, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
John M. Hedgepeth, President,
Digisim Corporation, Santa Barbara, California
Takeo Kanade, Director,
The Robotics Institute,
U.A. and Helen Whitaker Professor of Computer Science and Robotics,
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Bernard L. Koff, Executive Vice President,
Engineering and Technology, Pratt & Whitney, West Palm Beach, Florida
Donald J. Kutyna, USAF (Ret.), Corporate Vice President,
Advanced Space Systems, Loral Corporation, Colorado Springs, Colorado
John M. Logsdon, Director,
Space Policy Institute, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
Robert R. Lynn, Retired Sr. Vice President-Research and Engineering,
Bell Helicopter Textron, Euless, Texas
Frank E. Marble, Richard L. Hayman and Dorothy M. Hayman Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Professor of Jet Propulsion,
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
C. Julian May, President and Chief Operating Officer,
Technical Operations International, Inc., Kennesaw, Georgia
Earll M. Murman, Professor and Department Head,
Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
Bradford W. Parkinson, Professor,
Aeronautics and Astronautics and Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory, Stanford University, High Energy Physics Laboratory, Stanford, California
Alfred Schock, Director,
Energy System Department, Orbital Sciences Corporation, Germantown, Maryland
John D. Warner, President,
Boeing Computer Services, Seattle, Washington
JoAnn C. Clayton, Director
Alan C. Angleman, Senior Program Officer
Allison C. Sandlin, Senior Program Office
Noel E. Eldridge, Program Officer
Paul J. Shawcross, Program Officer
Anna L. Farrar, Administrative Associate
William E. Campbell, Administrative Assistant
Mary T. McCormack, Senior Project Assistant
Ted W. Morrison, Program Assistant
Beth A. Henry, Project Assistant
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Robert M. White is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce Alberts and Dr. Robert M. White are chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.
Over the last 37 years, thousands of spacecraft have been launched into orbit for scientific, commercial, environmental, and national security purposes. One consequence of this activity has been the creation of a large population of debris—artificial space objects that serve no useful function—in orbit around the Earth. Much of this debris will remain in orbit for hundreds of years or more, posing a long-term hazard to future space activities. Currently, the hazard is fairly low; there are no confirmed instances of orbital debris seriously damaging or destroying a spacecraft. However, continuing space operations and collisions between objects already in orbit are likely to generate additional debris faster than natural forces remove it, potentially increasing the debris hazard in some orbital regions to levels that could seriously jeopardize operations in those regions.
To acquire an unbiased technical assessment of (1) the research needed to better understand the debris environment, (2) the necessity and means of protecting spacecraft against the debris environment, and (3) potential methods of reducing the future debris hazard, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration asked the National Research Council to form an international committee to examine the orbital debris issue. The committee was asked to draw upon available data and analyses to
characterize the current debris environment,
project how this environment might change in the absence of new measures to alleviate debris proliferation,
examine ongoing alleviation activities,
explore measures to address the problem, and
develop recommendations on technical methods to address the problems of debris proliferation.
In the summer of 1993, the National Research Council formed a committee of 11 technical experts from six spacefaring nations to perform this task. This report, which draws upon existing research, the expertise of committee members, and material presented in the study's November 1993 workshop, represents that committee's consensus view.
The committee strove to ensure that the study focused on technical issues. This report does not suggest appropriate funding levels for future debris research, propose specific protective measures for particular spacecraft, or lay out detailed implementation strategies for techniques to contain the future debris hazard. Decisions on such matters involve political and economic as well as technical considerations and must be made by entities capable of weighing all these factors. Rather, this report seeks to provide engineers, scientists, and policy makers with the sound technical information and advice upon which such decisions must be based.
The committee would like to thank the many experts who briefed the committee, participated in the study's workshop, or in other ways helped us over the course of this study. I would like to personally thank the members of the committee for their hard work and dedication in developing this report. Finally, this project could not have been completed without the dedication and efficiency of the staff of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. In particular, I want especially to thank Paul Shawcross, the Study Director, whose hard work, technical knowledge, organizational skills, writing and editing ability, and ever-present positive attitude have been key to a successful outcome.