Author Topic: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?  (Read 12099 times)

Online Lar

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #40 on: 12/12/2016 01:09 AM »
I didn't search exhaustively but don't know of one. PM me if one is located.

https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=35812.0  (Thanks, AnalogMan)

I have a mind just to merge the threads as there are a few posts that it's hard to decide which one they go into. 

Edit: Merged.
« Last Edit: 12/12/2016 01:49 PM by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline KelvinZero

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #41 on: 12/13/2016 05:56 AM »
This is a general thread now?

How about thinking of the problem in terms of point defence that is also suitable to gradually reduce the total population of debris?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point-defence

What I mean is, a specific vulnerable target like a space station could have a few really heavy defences, like missiles to take out large things that are just going to hit it otherwise.. don't worry about the fact this adds to the junk. First priority is to not be hit by a one ton piece of junk because that will really create a lot of junk.. out of you. Then you have a series of successively smaller defences that can also be turned on anything that happens to pass through say a 10km vicinity. Some are sustainable such as lasers, some would be somewhere in between like perhaps hosing water or dust in the general direction of an incoming object.

An advantage of this is that if you ace the point defence aspect you immediately solve the problem for your most critical infrastructure, and reducing/managing risk universally over time is just a bonus.

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #42 on: 12/13/2016 11:01 AM »
I've just read through this thread and it seems the problem can be split on several different axes, such as debris size, life time, damage potential, number of pieces of a particular size etc.

My instinct is we are dealing with (very roughly) an exponential curve of size versus numbers. A small number of big items with a long tail of huge numbers of small items, down to paint fragment size. But because of the differential velocities involved it only takes a few small particles to hit some big objects and you get a massive cascade of debris. AFAIK people are a lot more aware of this for big objects like shrouds or boosters and take much more care to ensure either prompt de-orbiting or leaving in very high orbits.

So one question is what objects can you see? IIRC ground radar is limited to objects above 5cm in dia and that misses a lot that's still big enough to cause plenty of damage. If you can see it you can either avoid it or do something about it.

That suggests some sort of debris monitoring satellite or constellation with an orbit at least just above that of ISS (for debris warning), possibly up to say the fringes of the Van Allan belt. That means either millimetric radar or IR

Active measures are more difficult. IIRC ESA have  a low level study using a tank of gas on a satellite that "puffs" a cloud in front of debris, essentially a brick wall at these altitudes and densities, creating a sort of mini reentry.

I think any effective solution to the massive numbers of small fragments must act over a volume of space.

The tether concept seems quite energy and propellant efficient but still too small scale, too targeted.

 My instinct is to generate a UV light curtain, creating a positive surface charge on every object that passes across it. Over time the interaction of the objects charge with the Earths magnetic field will concentrate the debris into a higher or a lower orbit. Continued exposure should increase the charge on the debris and force it into lower or higher orbits, ideally leading to burn up in the denser atmosphere.
"Solids are a branch of fireworks, not rocketry. :-) :-) ", Henry Spencer 1/28/11  Averse to bold? You must be in marketing."It's all in the sequencing" K. Mattingly.  STS-Keeping most of the stakeholders happy most of the time.

Offline mikelepage

Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #43 on: 12/15/2016 03:20 AM »
Active measures are more difficult. IIRC ESA have  a low level study using a tank of gas on a satellite that "puffs" a cloud in front of debris, essentially a brick wall at these altitudes and densities, creating a sort of mini reentry.

Can you remember where you saw this? I've seen similar suggestions from ESA (although the one I found was using the gas to propel a net), and Boeing.  If you've got any references that would be awesome.

I've been workshopping a somewhat similar concept with some engineers that I know, but the economics of my idea will sink or swim based on the precision of the known path of the targeted bit of debris (i.e. if you imagine a cylindrical shaped volume in space through which the targeted piece debris is likely to pass, what's the radius of that cylinder?).

The graph I'm really hoping to see is (for a given orbital altitude):
X-axis: size of the debris
Y-axis: standard error of path of debris (in m).


Offline john smith 19

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #44 on: 12/15/2016 08:10 AM »
Can you remember where you saw this? I've seen similar suggestions from ESA (although the one I found was using the gas to propel a net), and Boeing.  If you've got any references that would be awesome.
I think it in an article on The Register. I dimly recall it was awarded to some defense contractor. Raytheon?
Quote
I've been workshopping a somewhat similar concept with some engineers that I know, but the economics of my idea will sink or swim based on the precision of the known path of the targeted bit of debris (i.e. if you imagine a cylindrical shaped volume in space through which the targeted piece debris is likely to pass, what's the radius of that cylinder?).

The graph I'm really hoping to see is (for a given orbital altitude):
X-axis: size of the debris
Y-axis: standard error of path of debris (in m).
That sounds like you need to look up the specs for one of the space object tracking radars the US or Russia uses.  I'm pretty sure they have real trouble with anything below 5cm. Viable for a system like this to de orbit but still very dangerous for anything else in orbit.

IIRC the idea was to get in close and squeeze out a pulse of gas. The problem is a gas cloud will disperse very fast.

Such a system will either need ground radar data to get it to target or have some kind of active sensor on board. The ideal case would be if you can find a debris swarm in close proximity and hit them all in one go.

One subtle point of these systems is the gas being expelled will act as a thruster in its own right, unless ejected through a T shaped nozzle to eliminate torque or thrust. Then you'd lose half the gas in the wrong direction.
"Solids are a branch of fireworks, not rocketry. :-) :-) ", Henry Spencer 1/28/11  Averse to bold? You must be in marketing."It's all in the sequencing" K. Mattingly.  STS-Keeping most of the stakeholders happy most of the time.

Offline KelvinZero

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #45 on: 12/16/2016 07:37 AM »
Active measures are more difficult. IIRC ESA have  a low level study using a tank of gas on a satellite that "puffs" a cloud in front of debris, essentially a brick wall at these altitudes and densities, creating a sort of mini reentry.

I think any effective solution to the massive numbers of small fragments must act over a volume of space.
Do you have a reference on active measures being harder? I don't exactly dispute it but Im not sure in what sense you mean it. In some senses it is trivially true.

Im attracted to the idea of point defence because the difficulty is largely in vision and control, things that could advance very quickly through things such as computing power and programming. Otherwise you are dealing with difficulties based on physical properties such as the sheer volume of cislunar space, perhaps better performing materials, more efficient propulsion and so on.

Also there is the motivation that it defends your most critical targets immediately. Otherwise you are just talking about statistically managing the problem, eg a really exceptional solution might reduce the risk by a factor of 10 in a decade. This could also justify the system being funded for reasons of pure self interest rather than the long term greater good.. not typically something corporations and nations put a high dollar value on.

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #46 on: 12/16/2016 08:04 AM »
Do you have a reference on active measures being harder? I don't exactly dispute it but Im not sure in what sense you mean it. In some senses it is trivially true.
No. I mean in the sense most of these concepts seem to send up a vehicle in order to bring down one piece of debris. This is expensive, unless you can build a vehicle like a cubesat that can de-orbit a booster, or a big panel or some other large object and you can make a lot of them.In this regard a spooled tether looks like a good system provided a spool you could put in a cube sat has the current carrying capacity to survive while having the flexibility to be coiled in the first place.
Quote
Im attracted to the idea of point defence because the difficulty is largely in vision and control, things that could advance very quickly through things such as computing power and programming. Otherwise you are dealing with difficulties based on physical properties such as the sheer volume of cislunar space, perhaps better performing materials, more efficient propulsion and so on.
Well Dragon already uses an image recognition system for docking so the computing level is there. But what about cislunar space? The trouble's in LEO due to the 60 years of accumulated launch debris.

In truth I'd like to see some stats on object sizes, quantities and altitude to get a feel for the problem. My instinct is the number of items is inversely exponential in size. A few big ones and a lot of small stuff.
Quote
Also there is the motivation that it defends your most critical targets immediately. Otherwise you are just talking about statistically managing the problem, eg a really exceptional solution might reduce the risk by a factor of 10 in a decade. This could also justify the system being funded for reasons of pure self interest rather than the long term greater good.. not typically something corporations and nations put a high dollar value on.
Again a lot of the concepts I've seen seem to be of the "launch a complex engineered vehicle to down a panel of junk." This makes no sense to me.  :( Likewise if it's big enough to see from the ground (and AFAIK that's where all current sensors are) it can be avoided unless something else hits it and changes it's course suddenly.

The idea of using UV to charge objects in space so they are acted upon by the Earth's magnetic field can be done at any size and can affects any size of object (although changes in delta vee of larger objects will be slower) and will run till the light source fails. Modern Excimer lamps can run 40% efficient. Even if they don't re-enter they would "herd" debris into a smaller volume for more efficient clean up by other methods.
« Last Edit: 12/16/2016 08:07 AM by john smith 19 »
"Solids are a branch of fireworks, not rocketry. :-) :-) ", Henry Spencer 1/28/11  Averse to bold? You must be in marketing."It's all in the sequencing" K. Mattingly.  STS-Keeping most of the stakeholders happy most of the time.

Offline Eer

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #47 on: 12/16/2016 11:00 AM »
It's been about a year since I posted the OP for this thread.  I didn't really intend it to be a specific solution thread, so I'm glad it has become a general thread for the topic.

It occurs to me, reading back over the replies, that the techniques for corralling and containing small-to-medium sized debris in various orbits is not too different from that faced by asteroid miners.

Maybe some of the asteroid mining companies will get a chance to test their approaches for capturing loosely aggregated asteroids on LEO debris.  Win-win.

Online Lar

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #48 on: 12/16/2016 01:29 PM »
This is a general thread now?
Yes, after the suggestion was made to move the general posts to the other thread, I decided to merge them together instead. General posts and other suggestions make up the majority of this thread now, and the "ball of gas" idea is now just one of many.  Cleaner. and we have one decent sized thread instead of two smaller ones, one languishing and one mostly offtopic from the thread title...

If you like that, like this post. If you hate that, PM me and prepare for sarcastic replies :)
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Online Lar

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #49 on: 12/16/2016 01:39 PM »
I think sending up one vehicle to get one piece of debris is not efficient. What's needed is an approach where the vehicle deorbits something but doesn't itself deorbit. That's where tethers shine, they are propellantless drives.

Japan's recent H-II tests tethers

http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2016/12/09/Japan-launches-space-trash-collector-to-ISS/5321481305090/

But I'm trying to find an earlier study in which a vehicle repeatedly travels to, attaches to, changes orbit of, and releases debris so it deorbits, but the vehicle climbs back to safety after release. One piece after another without using up any reaction mass... My google-fu is failing me right now but it's out there. It even had a video game like simulation of what cleanup looks like over time.

Edit: Found it

http://www.star-tech-inc.com/id121.html   "EDDE" ... It looks like there hasn't been recent progress. Maybe this didn't pan out but the idea of a craft that operates indefinitely is very attractive.

NOTE: initially it could deorbit but eventually it could bring things to a central location for recycling.
« Last Edit: 12/16/2016 01:57 PM by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Online Lar

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #50 on: 12/16/2016 09:14 PM »
I reached out to the EDDE guys and got a note from Jerome Pearson back ...

He included this video back which nicely summarizes several approaches



I keep forgetting that EDDE is both tethers AND nets... tethers to move around, nets to capture. So any given device eventually runs out of nets.

Jerome also pointed me at this recent presentation by them which describes other uses that lead to the full capability.
http://www.star-tech-inc.com/papers/EDDE_Presentation_For_2016_Tether_Conference_as_submitted.pdf

and this other one which delves more into probability of collision, costs of mitigation and some concrete suggestions on next steps.

http://www.star-tech-inc.com/papers/Cost-Effective_Management_of_Orbital_Debris_for_CODER_2016Nov09.pptx
« Last Edit: 12/16/2016 09:28 PM by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline Space Invaders

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #51 on: 12/26/2016 12:38 PM »
A non-technological (partial) solution to the problem: slap a tonnage-based tax on new satellites which are not equipped with an effective deorbiting system. This would provide a strong economic incentive for satellite makers and/or operators to ensure their satellites can be safely deorbited at the end of their lifetimes.

Once all new satellites are equipped with deorbiting systems, it's just a matter of waiting for atmospheric drag to bring down old space junk.
« Last Edit: 12/26/2016 12:38 PM by Space Invaders »

Offline Hanelyp

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #52 on: 12/26/2016 11:17 PM »
Who'd collect this tonnage tax?  How hard would it be to launch from another jurisdiction?

Offline Jim

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #53 on: 12/27/2016 12:44 AM »
A non-technological (partial) solution to the problem: slap a tonnage-based tax on new satellites which are not equipped with an effective deorbiting system. This would provide a strong economic incentive for satellite makers and/or operators to ensure their satellites can be safely deorbited at the end of their lifetimes.


Not plausible for GSO sats

Offline M.E.T.

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #54 on: 12/27/2016 05:40 AM »
Large debris seems to be the easier of the two problems to deal with. So let's dwell on the small debris issue for a moment.

Supposing BFR/ITS becomes operational and we are able to place a 747-sized laser system in orbit.

How effectively could such a system vaporize 5cm and smaller sized debris? Would 5 minutes of laser burn time be sufficient to eliminate one small piece of debris? If so, the system could vaporize 105,000 pieces of small debris per annum.

If its lifetime is 10 years that's about 1 million pieces of debris removed for each laser deployed in space.

Is this a potentially feasible solution?
« Last Edit: 12/27/2016 05:42 AM by M.E.T. »

Offline rklaehn

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #55 on: 12/27/2016 07:18 AM »
Large debris seems to be the easier of the two problems to deal with. So let's dwell on the small debris issue for a moment.

Supposing BFR/ITS becomes operational and we are able to place a 747-sized laser system in orbit.

How effectively could such a system vaporize 5cm and smaller sized debris? Would 5 minutes of laser burn time be sufficient to eliminate one small piece of debris? If so, the system could vaporize 105,000 pieces of small debris per annum.

If its lifetime is 10 years that's about 1 million pieces of debris removed for each laser deployed in space.

Is this a potentially feasible solution?

I don't think you have to completely vaporise small debris. For LEO debris, just vaporise a small amount to lower perigee and cause reentry. See for example https://e-reports-ext.llnl.gov/pdf/386492.pdf

I think if there was an economic incentive for space debris removal, one of the proposed technical solutions like the one mentioned above, or something nobody has yet thought of, could definitely be made to work.

The question is how you get this economic incentive.
Try the ISS 3D visualization at http://www.heavens-above.com/ISS_3D.aspx

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #56 on: 12/27/2016 11:45 AM »
I think if there was an economic incentive for space debris removal, one of the proposed technical solutions like the one mentioned above, or something nobody has yet thought of, could definitely be made to work.

The question is how you get this economic incentive.
Exactly. That's the core problem for any system that has any kind of consumable component.

Obvious options involve international agreements among all nations with launch capability.  The joker is would one of them not join, seeing it as an economic disadvantage to them.

The other obvious avenue is if launch insurance companies set aside some of their premiums to fund such a system. This could be incorporated into a discount dependent on how well the launch looks after debris cleanup.

I don't believe it's possible to do a completely debris free launch but I think there are degrees of how much debris a launch causes. that said in LEO fragments can be just as dangerous as bigger objects and are both much harder to track and much less predictable in their path.
"Solids are a branch of fireworks, not rocketry. :-) :-) ", Henry Spencer 1/28/11  Averse to bold? You must be in marketing."It's all in the sequencing" K. Mattingly.  STS-Keeping most of the stakeholders happy most of the time.

Offline Space Invaders

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #57 on: 02/05/2017 03:56 PM »
Who'd collect this tonnage tax?  How hard would it be to launch from another jurisdiction?
The tax would be collected by the jurisdiction where the launch service provider is based. Since all major spacefaring nations have a strong interest in preventing too much space junk, getting them on board would already cover > 99% of satellite launches.

Online Jeff Lerner

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #58 on: 02/05/2017 04:43 PM »
Large debris seems to be the easier of the two problems to deal with. So let's dwell on the small debris issue for a moment.

Supposing BFR/ITS becomes operational and we are able to place a 747-sized laser system in orbit.

How effectively could such a system vaporize 5cm and smaller sized debris? Would 5 minutes of laser burn time be sufficient to eliminate one small piece of debris? If so, the system could vaporize 105,000 pieces of small debris per annum.

If its lifetime is 10 years that's about 1 million pieces of debris removed for each laser deployed in space.

Is this a potentially feasible solution?



I may be over thinking this but when I first read your post  on orbiting a 747 sized laser system, I immediately thought of a scaled down but easily scaled up version of SDI......are countries, like Russia, going to be happy with a laser zapping system orbiting overhead....??

Offline Hanelyp

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Re: Orbital Debris Cleanup - how to?
« Reply #59 on: 02/05/2017 10:01 PM »
Laser vs. a ground target isn't going to work well because of atmospheric effects.  But it could still work against high altitude aircraft and functional satellites, making a laser based sweeper a military concern.

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