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NASA analyzes cost-effective methods to manage orbital debris
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NASA analyzes cost-effective methods to manage orbital debris
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) May 22, 2024

New data from NASA and its partners suggests more cost-effective strategies for addressing orbital debris.

A report by NASA's Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS) offers new insights into measuring the risks from orbital debris.

"Growing activity in Earth's orbit has brought us everything from faster terrestrial communications to a better understanding of our changing climate," said Charity Weeden, leader of NASA's OTPS. "These blossoming opportunities are resulting in a more crowded space environment. This study is part of NASA's work to rapidly improve our understanding of that environment as outlined in NASA's recently released Space Sustainability Strategy, by applying an economic lens to this critical issue."

The report, "Cost and Benefit Analysis of Mitigating, Tracking, and Remediating Orbital Debris," is Phase 2 of OTPS' effort to address the technical and economic uncertainties associated with orbital debris.

The Phase 1 report, released in 2023, provided initial data for policymakers on remediation measures for orbital debris, such as moving, removing, or reusing objects. The new report improves risk estimates for spacecraft from debris, covering from large objects to millimeter-size fragments. It also includes actions to mitigate new debris creation and track existing debris.

"This study allows us to start to answer the question: What are the most cost-effective actions we can take to address the growing problem of orbital debris?" said NASA analyst Jericho Locke, the lead author of the report. "By measuring everything in dollars, we can directly compare shielding spacecraft to tracking smaller debris or removing 50 large pieces of debris to removing 50,000 smaller ones."

The new OTPS report estimates the risk posed by space debris directly, rather than using risk proxies like debris count. It measures risks in dollars, modeling costs for maneuvering spacecraft to avoid debris, handling close approaches, and damage or loss from debris impact. The study simulates the orbital debris environment over 30 years.

The study compares the cost-effectiveness of more than 10 actions to reduce orbital debris risk, such as shielding, tracking small debris, or remediating large debris. The team aims to assess cost-effectiveness of different action combinations, known as portfolios.

The report reexamines traditional actions considered cost-effective for space sustainability. For instance, some debris remediation methods may be as valuable as mitigation. Deorbiting defunct spacecraft quickly is also seen as cost-effective. These findings could offer new strategies for NASA leaders and the space community on orbital debris.

OTPS will publicly release the research code used for the study. The team will continue to explore orbital debris management and share its findings with stakeholders.

Research Report:Cost and Benefit Analysis of Mitigating, Tracking, and Remediating Orbital Debris,

Related Links
Office of Technology, Policy and Strategy (OTPS)
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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