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Research Proposals on Orbital Debris, Space Sustainability Receive NASA Funding

Managing space debris

Research Proposals on Orbital Debris, Space Sustainability Receive NASA Funding

NASA will award funding to space sustainability research proposals from three university-based teams. The space agency believes the studies can help address orbital debris threats to operational spacecraft, national security and the U.S. science and technology enterprise. Selected proposals include using source-sink evolutionary environmental models and an integrated assessment model for constellations and space junk. Such methods are expected to bring a better understanding of the orbital environment dynamic and support the development of policies to limit debris creation, NASA said.

Pieces of debris such as defunct satellites and abandoned rocket components could hamper the entry of the private sector into the space industry and hinder the development of a low-Earth orbit economy. Bhavya Lal, associate administrator for the Office of Technology, Policy and Strategy at NASA, described space junk as “one of the great challenges of our era.”

The growing debris population in space has been a major concern for decades. In 1978, Donald Kessler, an American astrophysicist and former NASA scientist, warned that collisions between space objects can lead to the creation of more debris – a cascade effect called the Kessler Syndrome.

Currently, the prominence of LEO networks has increased calls for measures to ensure space sustainability. During the 2022 Technology & Leadership Summit in February, Rajeev Suri, CEO of satellite operator Inmarsat, suggested combining geostationary and LEO satellites with terrestrial 5G. According to the executive, relying on LEO space systems alone to deliver satellite communications would require a huge investment and result in major environmental concerns. “The end result could be akin to Kessler’s Syndrome, in which space pollution becomes so high that collisions cause an unending cascade of follow-on collisions,” Suri said.

Category: Space