Improving Orbital Debris Environment Predictions through Examining Satellite Movement Data

December, 2020
IDA document: D-20448
FFRDC: Systems and Analyses Center
Type: Documents , Space
Division: Operational Evaluation Division
Joel Williamsen, Daniel Pechkis, Asha Balakrishnan, Stephen Ouellette See more authors
This paper describes a method for characterizing the 1–3 mm low Earth orbit (LEO) debris environment using satellite perturbation data (unexpected, sudden orbital movements not attributable to other sources), evidenced by changes in Global Positioning System position, temporary breaks in communication links, and other methods. This technique is used to point out a potential overprediction of risk in existing NASA orbital debris models. The paper then proposes a public policy approach for collecting and cataloging this information so that NASA can use the information to update their orbital debris models. Government and private industry can then use the improved debris models to more accurately estimate the 1–3 mm orbital debris population their spacecraft may encounter, develop appropriate debris impact mitigation strategies, improve spacecraft designs, and gain a better understanding for the root causes of potential failures.