Mitigation of debris in LEO using space-based lasers

Walker, Lewis and Vasile, Massimiliano (2021) Mitigation of debris in LEO using space-based lasers. In: 72nd International Astronautical Congress, 2021-10-25 - 2021-10-29, Dubai World Trade Centre.

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Small (<10cm) debris fragments present a significant threat to all operational satellites in orbit. Although numerous strategies for debris mitigation have been proposed, most active space-based methods involve rendezvous maneuvers with targeted pieces of debris, making them unsuitable for the cleaning up of large populations of fragments. There are more appropriate for removing larger objects which are potential sources of further debris. Moreover, these types of strategies are inapplicable to fragments which are too small to be tracked from Earth which is a requirement for rendezvous. This paper extends previous work by the authors by focusing on the photon pressure case and using the previously developed models for investigating application to collision avoidance .This paper investigates through numerical simulations the impact of an active debris mitigation strategy using space-based lasers,targeted at debris shells resulting from collision events. A realistic concept is proposed and modelled in detail using opportunistic inter-action with debris, without rendezvous, and requiring zero knowledge of individual fragments' orbits from ground-based observations. The impact of the mission is simulated numerically by analyzing the dynamics of typical encounters and employing high-fidelity models of both photon pressure and laser ablation based interaction mechanisms. The models are then adapted to the case of collision avoidance, which requires far less momentum transfer to achieve a meaningful displacement after several orbit