24/7 Space News
TECH SPACE
Using lasers in Earth's orbit to protect space assets from debris
Earth's lower orbit is filling up with junk that poses a threat to space assets. New West Virginia University research explores whether space-based lasers can zap even tiny particles or large fields of debris off potential collision courses with objects like satellites or space stations.
ADVERTISEMENT
Using lasers in Earth's orbit to protect space assets from debris
by Staff Writers
Morgantown WV (SPX) Oct 05, 2023

If West Virginia University research pays off, debris that litters the planet's orbit and poses a threat to spacecraft and satellites could get nudged off potential collision courses by a coordinated network of space lasers.

Hang Woon Lee, director of the Space Systems Operations Research Laboratory at WVU, said a junkyard of human-made debris, including defunct satellites, is accumulating around Earth. The more debris in orbit, the higher the risk that some of that debris will collide with manned and unmanned space assets. He said he believes the best chance for preventing those collisions is an array of multiple lasers mounted to platforms in space. The artificial intelligence-powered lasers could maneuver and work together to respond rapidly to debris of any size.

Lee, an assistant professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, is a 2023 recipient of NASA's prestigious Early Career Faculty award for potentially breakthrough research. NASA is supporting Lee's rapid-response debris removal study with $200,000 in funding per year for up to three years.

The work is in its early stages and, currently, the research team is verifying the algorithms they propose developing to run the system of lasers would be a valid, cost-effective solution. But the long-distance vision is of "multiple space-based lasers actively performing orbital maneuvers and collaboratively addressing orbital debris," Lee said.

This could lead to just-in-time collision avoidance with high-value space assets.

"Our goal is to develop a network of reconfigurable space-based lasers, along with a suite of algorithms. Those algorithms will be the enabling technology that make such a network possible and maximize its benefits."

If a natural object, like a micrometeoroid, dings a human-made object, like the remains of a launch vehicle, the resultant debris can travel quickly enough that even a piece as small as a fleck of paint might have the force to puncture an observation or telecommunication satellite or the side of the International Space Station.

That has become an urgent problem because space is getting increasingly cluttered. In particular, Earth's low orbit has attracted commercial telecommunications systems like SpaceX's Starlink, which uses satellites to bring broadband internet to subscribers. Low orbit is also home to satellites used in weather forecasting and land-cover analysis, and it's the staging ground for deep-space exploration.

"That increased population of objects heightens the risk of collisions, endangers manned missions, and jeopardizes high-value scientific and industrial missions," Lee said. He added that collisions in space can trigger a domino effect called the "Kessler Syndrome," which induces a chain reaction increasing the risk of further collisions, "making space unsustainable and hostile."

Other researchers are developing debris removal technologies like hooks, harpoons, nets and sweepers, but those only work on large debris. Lee's approach should be able to handle debris of almost any size.

The suite of algorithms Lee's team will develop might work on lasers that are mounted on large satellites, or it might power lasers that live on their own dedicated platforms. He will evaluate the various forms a laser network might take as part of the study. Either way, the technology will be able to make many decisions on its own, independently performing maneuvers and setting priorities.

The system will dictate what combination of lasers target which pieces of debris, while ensuring that the resulting trajectories remain collision-free.

When a laser beam shoots a piece of debris, it doesn't zap it into oblivion. Rather, the debris gets nudged into a new orbit, often through laser ablation. That means the laser beam vaporizes a small portion of the debris, generating a high-velocity plasma plume that pushes the debris off course.

"The process of laser ablation and photon pressure induces a change in velocity in the target debris, which ultimately alters the size and shape of its orbit. This is where the motivation for using lasers comes into play. The ability to change the orbit of debris can be effectively controlled by a network of lasers to nudge or deorbit space debris, avoiding potentially catastrophic events such as collisions," Lee explained.

"Using a system of multiple lasers can create multiple engagement opportunities with debris and lead to more efficient control of the trajectories. Several lasers can act simultaneously on a single target at a greater spectrum of intensity, altering its trajectory in a way that would be impossible with a single laser."

Lee will collaborate with Scott Zemerick, chief systems engineer of TMC Technologies, located in Fairmont, to validate all models and algorithms developed throughout the project within a "digital twin environment." That will ensure the products are flight software-ready, Lee said.

Related Links
West Virginia University
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

RELATED CONTENT
The following news reports may link to other Space Media Network websites.
TECH SPACE
US slaps Satellite TV provider with first-ever space debris fine
Washington (AFP) Oct 3, 2023
US authorities said they have issued a "breakthrough" first-ever fine over space debris, slapping a $150,000 penalty on a TV company that failed to properly dispose of a satellite. On Monday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) came down on Dish for "failure to properly deorbit" a satellite called EchoStar-7, in orbit since 2002. "This marks a first in space debris enforcement by the Commission, which has stepped up its satellite policy efforts," the FCC, which authorizes space-based tele ... read more

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
TECH SPACE
Law professor calls for ethical approach to human experiments in space

Ethics rules needed for human research on commercial spaceflights, panel says

Ethical guidelines needed before human research in commercial spaceflight is ready for liftoff

Global team recommends ethical rules for human research in commercial spaceflight

TECH SPACE
Vega-C Zefiro40 Test: Independent Enquiry

Record-breaking launch of SpaceX's Starlink satellites

Maritime Launch unveils commercial suborbital program at Spaceport Nova Scotia

Spain's MIURA 1 launch campaign kicks off

TECH SPACE
Light rocks on deck, gray rocks in the hole: Sols 3966-3697

Dust removal delayed: Sols 3962-3963

Double DRT for a Soliday: Sols 3964-3965:

NASA's Perseverance captures dust-filled Martian whirlwind

TECH SPACE
Astronauts honored for contributions to China's space program

China capable of protecting astronauts from effects of space weightlessness

Tianzhou 5 spacecraft burns up on Earth reentry

Crew of Shenzhou XV mission honored for six-month space odyssey

TECH SPACE
Momentus announces $4M direct offering priced at-the-market under Nasdaq rules

Sierra Space increases total investment to $1.7B with $290M Series B Funding

Arlington Capital Partners to acquire Exostar from Thoma Bravo

Intelsat expands Brazil infrastructure, delivers new services

TECH SPACE
US slaps Satellite TV provider with first-ever space debris fine

German tech factory reveals antenna prototype-ngVLA will open a new window into the Universe

US TV provider given first-ever space debris fine

Ukraine says strike in Russia's Kursk region took out high-tech radar system

TECH SPACE
A newly identified virus emerges from the deep

James Webb telescope captures planet-like structures in Orion Nebula

Scientists develop method of identifying life on other worlds

Study sheds new light on strange lava worlds

TECH SPACE
Plot thickens in the hunt for a ninth planet

Large mound structures on Kuiper belt object Arrokoth may have common origin

Webb finds carbon source on surface of Jupiter's moon Europa

Hidden ocean the source of CO2 on Jupiter moon

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters


ADVERTISEMENT



The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2023 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.