The Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS)

The Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS)

by Ted Muelhaupt

The Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center founded in 1960, has been actively involved in the technology related to reentry and space debris since its earliest days. The hazards posed by space debris are environmental problems that span many space programs and disciplines, and the corporation has assisted the national security community in understanding space situational awareness in this arena for many years.

The Air Force does not have a specific organization responsible for managing space debris for national defense systems. The elimination of the Air Force Space Debris Research Program in the mid-1990s removed a main Department of Defense focus on space debris research. Similarly, although individual space program offices have specific space debris and reentry related topics of interest, there is no single Aerospace program office that encompasses the entire breadth of debris work. The research spans a wide scope, and expertise in these areas is dispersed across the corporation.

As budgets declined in the mid-1990s, Aerospace began to seek out new business development opportunities. At the same time, there was growing concern among the national security community about the space debris problem and the hazards posed by debris that survived atmospheric reentry. Aerospace had significant skills and background in the field, and in 1997, announced the creation of the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS). CORDS would lead the company’s research in space debris, reentry breakup, and related hazards, and provide a focus for new business initiatives related to the technology. In 1999, the center established the Space Operations Support Office (SOPSO) to provide a focal point for direct space-based operational support, including launch and on-orbit collision avoidance.

In the mid-2000s, SOPSO was disbanded with a shift away from commercial operations support. At the same time, direct support to national security customers was expanding at Aerospace through activities such as the Debris Analysis Review Team.

Today, CORDS continues to coordinate and integrate various technologies and customer-focused efforts into a coherent technology base. It serves as the corporate focal point for environmental, cross-program concerns. It also serves as a voice for media inquiries, including many science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related efforts in which the corporation is called upon to share its expertise. Visit the CORDS website at

Related publication:  Crosslink, Fall 2015, Understanding Space Debris