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Assessment Study of Small Space Debris Removal by Laser SatellitesSpace debris in Earth orbit poses significant danger to satellites, humans in space, and future space exploration activities. In particular, the increasing number of unidentifiable objects, smaller than 10 cm, presents a serious hazard. Numerous technologies have been studied for removing unwanted objects in space. Our approach uses a short wavelength laser stationed in orbit to vaporize these small objects. This paper discusses the power requirements for space debris removal using lasers. A short wavelength laser pumped directly or indirectly by solar energy can scan, identify, position, and illuminate the target, which will then be vaporized or slow down the orbital speed of debris by laser detonation until it re-enters the atmosphere. The laser-induced plasma plume has a dispersive motion of approximately 105 m/sec with a Lambertian profile in the direction of the incoming beam [1-2]. The resulting fast ejecting jet plume of vaporized material should prevent matter recombination and condensation. If it allows any condensation of vaporized material, the size of condensed material will be no more than a nanoscale level [3]. Lasers for this purpose can be indirectly pumped by power from an array of solar cells or directly pumped by the solar spectrum [4]. The energy required for vaporization and ionization of a 10 cm cube (~ 2700 gm) of aluminum is 87,160 kJ. To remove this amount of aluminum in 3 minutes requires a continuous laser beam power of at least 5.38 MW under the consideration of 9% laser absorption by aluminum [5] and 5% laser pumping efficiency. The power needed for pumping 5.38 MW laser is approximately 108 MW, which can be obtained from a large solar array with 40% efficiency solar cells and a minimal area of 450 meters by 450 meters. This solar array would collect approximately 108 MW. The power required for system operation and maneuvering can be obtained by increasing solar panel size. This feasibility assessment covers roughly the power requirement, laser system, and a potential operational scenario.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Choi, Sang H. (NASA Langley Research Center Hampton, VA, United States)
Papa, Richard S. (NASA Langley Research Center Hampton, VA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 25, 2013
Publication Date
March 5, 2011
Subject Category
Lasers and Masers
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
2011 IEEE Aerospace Conference(Big Sky, MT)
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 432938.
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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