This thesis deals with the orbital debris problem and its impact on small satellites such as CubeSats. Currently there is approximately eighteen tons of space junk that are currently in Earth orbit of which, 80% of this space debris is in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which is where most spacecraft are launched into. A simplified orbital lifetime tool is developed and used to analyze the impact of the exponential rise in small satellite launches into LEO. It is shown that unless proactive measures are taken, the orbital debris problem will become worse in the future. To this end, two proactive approaches are examined: active removal of technologies and space policy changes. With respect to active removal technologies, three solutions being considered are examined: laser removal, electrodynamic tethers and mechanical nets. Laser removal involves using a space based or ground based laser to ablate material from space debris. The ablated material acts as a miniature thruster which decrease the semi-major axis of the debris’ orbit. The second technology considered is electromagnetic tethers. The tethers are based on using the earth's magnetic field to generate an electromotive force which acts as drag and, thus, causes the orbit of a debris object to decay. Lastly, there is the concept of a deployable net. A net with flexible rods is deployable from a host satellite and captures multiple forms of debris and knocks it out of orbit. For this concept, there is a closing mechanism to efficiently remove the debris. The advantages and disadvantages of all these technologies are analyzed.Next policy changes that can take advantage of these coming orbital debris removal technologies as well as existing technologies are considered. As well be shown, current space policies do not effectively deal with the orbital debris problem. Many papers have discussed how it is the launcher’s responsibility to remove their spacecraft from operational orbit. Since the creation of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, countries know that space is deemed as an environment for exploration as opposed to property. After examining multiple scenarios involving various countries’ space interactions and removal technology proposals, it results into how orbital debris can be created. National space policies will be analyzed with focus on responsibility of removing orbital debris and keeping the space environment clean for future exploration. Another policy reform that is considered is that of future design standards. Using CubeSats as an example, we explore what kind of changes in design standards can help mitigate the orbital debris problem. To this end, typical CubeSat subsystems are separately examined, Structures, Propulsion, Control, Power, Navigation, and Communication. The analysis will also focus on how changes in the practice of designing these subsystems can be used to mitigate the orbital debris problem
University of Minnesota M.S. thesis. November 2020. Major: Aerospace Engineering. Advisor: Demoz Gebre-Egziabher. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 54 pages.
Technologies to Solve the Orbital Debris Problem and its Effects on the Future of Space Exploration.
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