Orbital debris removal with solar concentrators

Vasile, Massimiliano and Maddock, Christie and Saunders, C. (2010) Orbital debris removal with solar concentrators. In: 61st International Astronautical Congress 2010, IAC 2010, 2010-09-27 - 2010-10-01.


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    In 1993 solar concentrators were first proposed to deflect asteroids away from a collision course with the Earth. The original concept was expanded by the authors, and proved to be effective and technologically feasible. One way to deflect the asteroid is to produce a slow decay of its orbit by inducing a thrust via concentrated solar light. Two mechanisms have been investigated: the sublimation of the surface of the asteroid to generate a jet of gas and the induced thrust by light pressure and enhanced Yarkovsky effect. If the concentrators are reduced in size, a similar concept can be adopted to remove orbital debris and inert satellites. In this paper, we present an orbital debris removal system based on concentrated solar light. We will show how enhanced solar pressure, generated by a formation of solar concentrators, can be used to accelerate the decay of small inert objects orbiting the Earth. A set of modified proximal motion equations is proposed to describe the relative dynamics of the solar concentrators with respect to the target piece of debris. The paper will provide an analysis of the cost of the optimal control of the concentrators during the deflection of the debris and a system engineering analysis. In particular, we will show that the concentrator acts as an active solar sail while not deflecting, and as a hybrid solar sail (i.e. the orbit is maintained with an auxiliary low-thrust engine) while deflecting the debris. The results will show that objects with even a small area-to-mass ratio (down to 0.01) can be brought from an 800 km to a 200 km altitude orbit in few hundred days of constant operation. The paper will discuss also the possibility to vaporize some small size targets with high power solar pumped laser.