Confronting Space Debris: Strategies and Warnings from Comparable Examples Including Deepwater Horizon

Confronting Space Debris: Strategies and Warnings from Comparable Examples Including Deepwater Horizon

Confronting Space Debris: Strategies and Warnings from Comparable Examples Including Deepwater Horizon

Confronting Space Debris: Strategies and Warnings from Comparable Examples Including Deepwater Horizon

Excerpt

Orbital (space) debris represents a growing threat to the operation of man-made objects in space. According to Nick Johnson, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) chief scientist for orbital debris, “[T]he current orbital debris environment poses a real, albeit low level, threat to the operation of spacecraft” in both low earth orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous orbit (GEO) (Johnson, 2010). There are currently hundreds of thousands of objects greater than one centimeter in diameter in Earth’s orbit. The collision of any one of these objects with an operational satellite would cause catastrophic failure of that satellite.

This monograph presents a new way of thinking about the orbital debris problem. It should be of interest to space-faring nation-states and commercial firms, the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and the general public.

This research was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

NASA defines orbital debris as “artificial objects, including derelict spacecraft and spent launch vehicle orbital stages, left in orbit which no longer serve a useful purpose” (NASAHandbook 8719.14, 2008).

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