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NIAC Phase I Final Report: On-Orbit, Collision-Free Mapping of Small Orbital DebrisSub-centimeter orbital debris is currently undetectable using ground-based radar and optical methods. However, the pits in Space Shuttle windows produced by paint chips (e.g. the 3.8mm diameter pit produced by a 0.2mm paint chip on STS-7) demonstrate that small debris can cause serious damage to spacecraft. Recent analytical, computational and experimental work has shown that charged objects moving quickly through a plasma will cause the formation of solitons in the plasma density. Due to their exposure to the solar wind plasma environment, even the smallest space debris will be charged. Depending on the debris size, charge and velocity, the plasma signature of the solitons may be detected by simple instrumentation on spacecraft. We will describe the amplitude and velocity of solitons that may be produced by mm-cm scale orbital debris in LEO. We will discuss the feasibility of mapping sub-cm orbital debris using a fleet of CubeSats equipped with Langmuir probes. The time and fleet size required to map the debris will also be described. Plasma soliton detection would be the first collision-free method of mapping the small debris population.
Document ID
Document Type
Contractor or Grantee Report
Hartzell, Christine
(Maryland Univ. College Park, MD, United States)
Akin, David
(Maryland Univ. College Park, MD, United States)
Truitt, Alexis
(Maryland Univ. College Park, MD, United States)
Shannon, Jackson
(Maryland Univ. College Park, MD, United States)
Quock, Benjamin
(Maryland Univ. College Park, MD, United States)
Behnke, Nick
(Maryland Univ. College Park, MD, United States)
Kim, Jooneon
(Maryland Univ. College Park, MD, United States)
Zimmerman, Gregorio
(Maryland Univ. College Park, MD, United States)
Date Acquired
July 29, 2019
Publication Date
June 30, 2019
Subject Category
Report/Patent Number
Distribution Limits
Portions of document may include copyright protected material.
Technical Review
NASA Technical Management
Orbital Debris
Radar Methods
Optical Methods

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