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Full text of "NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) 20110005437: Engineering Challenges for Active Debris Removal"

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Engineering Challenges for Active Debris Removal 


J.-C. Liou 

NASA Orbital Debris Program Office 

Mail Code KX, NASA Johnson Space Center, 2101 NASA Parkway 
Houston, TX 77058, USA; (28 1)-244-5975, jer-chyi.liou-l@nasa.gov 

Recent modeling studies on the instability of the debris population in the low Earth 
orbit (LEO) region and the collision between Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 have 
underlined the need for active debris removal. A 2009 analysis by the NASA Orbital 
Debris Program Office shows that, in order to maintain the LEO debris population at a 
constant level for the next 200 years, an active debris removal of about five objects per 
year is needed. The targets identified for removal are those with the highest mass and 
collision probability products in the environment. Many of these objects are spent upper 
stages with masses ranging from 1 to more than 8 metric tons, residing in several 
altitude regions and concentrated in about 10 inclination bands. To remove five of those 
objects on a yearly basis, in a cost-effective manner, represents many challenges in 
engineering, technology development, and operations. This paper outlines a conceptual 
end-to-end debris removal operation, including launch, precision tracking, rendezvous, 
stabilization (of the tumbling targets), capture, and deorbit of the targets; and highlights 
major challenges associated with the operations. Pros and cons of several proposed 
removal techniques are also evaluated.