How is Aerospace Helping to Manage Risk?

Aerospace is working to help satellite and launch vehicle designers and operators address the problems that come with space debris. In the design phase, Aerospace works with the government to design satellite architectures that consider debris risk and replenishment. Orbit choices and operation plans take into account both on-orbit risk and post-mission disposal that will minimize future debris. Aerospace works with the government to set design requirements, and with vehicle contractors to design spacecraft that can maneuver to avoid collisions, withstand small debris strikes, and to move to disposal orbits or reenter at end of life. If a vehicle is intended to be reentered, we consider design changes that will minimize the risk to people on the ground from falling debris.

Aerospace explores innovative ways of analyzing and visualizing risk from space debris. This graphic shows the relative density of space debris from the collision of Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 two months after the collision.

Aerospace explores innovative ways of analyzing and visualizing risk from space debris. This graphic shows the relative density of space debris from the collision of Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 two months after the collision.

To help assure safe launches, Aerospace led the development of probability-based screening of launch trajectories to ensure that the new launch will not collide with any objects currently in the resident space object catalog. Aerospace performs launch collision avoidance (LCOLA) for most government launches by generating real-time reports that tell the mission director when it is safe to launch. We do this by comparing all of the potential launch trajectories at all of the potential launch times to the calculate positions of all of the objects in the resident space object catalog.

Routine on-orbit collision avoidance is done in a similar manner. Operators compare the calculated future positions of their satellites against all of the other objects in space, and look for close approaches, or “conjunctions.” If a future conjunction is too risky, the operator can consider a small maneuver to lower the risk. Aerospace assists the government by developing better methods of computing these conjunctions and developing better processes to ensure smooth operations.

If a collision does occur, there is an immediate unknown risk to operational satellites from this new debris cloud. Aerospace formed the Debris Analysis Response Team (DART) to pioneer new tools and techniques to compute that risk. The DART is on call to assist the government in determining the immediate risk to critical national assets.