The Space Debris Problem

By Chen, Shenyan | Asian Perspective, October 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Space Debris Problem


Chen, Shenyan, Asian Perspective


Near-Earth orbits are becoming congested as a result of an increase in the number of objects in space-operational satellites as well as orbital space debris. The risk of collisions between satellites and space debris is also growing. Controlling the production of debris is crucial to the sustainable use of space. This article presents background information on space debris, including number, size, spatial distribution, source, and the threat to satellites. It also discusses international efforts to control the debris population, including the development of debris mitigation measurements, active removal of space debris, and space traffic management. KEYWORDS: space debris, collision risk, debris mitigation.

SINCE THE LAUNCH OF THE FIRST ARTIFICIAL SATELLITE, SPUTNIK 1, ON October 4, 1957, over four thousand rockets have sent more than six thousand payloads into orbit, greatly improving the world's capacity to retrieve, transmit, and share information. Unfortunately, space activities have produced large quantities of discarded equipment, rocket upper stages, defunct satellites, bolts, and other hardware released during the deployment of satellites, as well as fragments from the breakup of satellites and rocket upper stages. These objects are moving at high speed at different altitudes and inclination of orbit.As a result, the impact risk to existing space systems is increasing.

Space debris is a growing concern, as even small particles can be very destructive in a collision due to their high orbital speed. Objects in orbit must travel at extremely high speeds in order to resist the pull of gravity and remain in space. Orbital speeds in low-Earth orbit (LEO, defined as the region between altitudes of 200 and 2,000 km), are greater than 7 km/second (km/s), and the average relative speed of a piece of debris and a satellite in a collision is 10 km/s. The damage from such a hypervelocity impact has been widely studied through tests and numerical simulations. Shielding has been designed to protect some critical devices on satellites, but can only protect against small debris (<1 cm) and greatly increases the cost. In a catastrophic collision, enormous pieces of debris are produced, posing short-term and long-term threats to satellites in nearby orbits. Recent studies have shown that at some altitudes in LEO, collisions will become the dominant debris generation mechanism, and the debris generated would then feed back to the environment and induce more collisions (Kessler 2000; Kessler and Anz-Meador 2001; Liou and Johnson 2007). Space debris is a global problem that all spacefaring nations should take seriously.

This article considers why space debris is a problem, how space debris is distributed, what risks space debris poses to satellites, what international communities have done to ameliorate the problem, and what we should do in the future.

Damage to Spacecraft from Space Debris

The consequences of debris impacts on spacecraft can range from small surface pits due to micrometer-size impactors, via clear hole penetrations for millimeter-size objects, to mission-critical damage for projectiles larger than 1 cm.Any impact of a 10-cm catalog object on a spacecraft or orbital stage will most likely entail a catastrophic disintegration of the target. Figure 1 shows the results of a laboratory test impact between a small sphere of aluminum travelling at approximately 6.8 km/s and a block of aluminum 18 cm thick. This destructive energy is a consequence of high-impact velocities that are greater than 7 km/s in LEO, and the average relative speed of a piece of debris and a satellite in a collision is 10 km/s. For the extremely high relative velocity, the impact between space debris and spacecraft could be classified as hypervelocity impact, which is much different in physical phenomena compared to low-velocity and high-velocity impact.

Experimental tests or numerical simulation methods are the main tools used to understand the damage patterns to space structures from hypervelocity impacts of orbit debris. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Space Debris Problem
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.