A model of the manmade orbital debris environment is required by spacecraft designers, mission planners, and others in order to understand and mitigate the effects of the environment on their spacecraft or systems. A manmade environment is dynamic, and can be altered significantly by intent (e.g., the Chinese anti-satellite weapon test of January 2007) or accident (e.g., the collision of Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 spacecraft in February 2009).

Engineering models are used to portray the manmade debris environment in Earth orbit. The availability of new sensor and in situ data, the re-analysis of older data, and the development of new analytical and statistical techniques has enabled the construction of this more comprehensive and sophisticated model. The primary output of this model is the flux [#debris/area/time] as a function of debris size and year. ORDEM may be operated in spacecraft mode or telescope mode. In the former case, an analyst defines an orbit for a spacecraft and “flies” the spacecraft through the orbital debris environment. In the latter case, an analyst defines a ground-based sensor (telescope or radar) in terms of latitude, azimuth, and elevation, and the model provides the number of orbital debris traversing the sensor’s field of view.

An upgraded graphical user interface (GUI) is integrated with the software. This upgraded GUI uses project-oriented organization and provides the user with graphical representations of numerous output data products. These range from the conventional flux as a function of debris size for chosen analysis orbits (or views), for example, to the more complex color-contoured two-dimensional (2D) directional flux diagrams in local spacecraft elevation and azimuth.

This work was done by Mark Matney of Johnson Space Center; Paula Krisko and Yu-Lin Xu of Jacobs Technology; and Matthew Horstman of ERC. MSC-25457-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2013 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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