Current space debris research in the U.S. Department of Defense

David B. Spencer, W. Spencer Campbell, Vladimir A. Chobotov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A research program was established by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) at the U.S. Air Force's Phillips Laboratory (PL) in 1990 to assess the small orbital debris environment, characterize the hazard it might pose to DoD assets, and develop new mitigation techniques to minimize the creation of debris. This program is comprised of three areas of activity: debris measurements, debris modeling, and debris mitigation. Debris measurements are utilized to understand the current environment and to observe growth trends. Measurement activities include detecting, tracking and analyzing small objects that are not presently in the Space Control Center (SCC) Catalog. Debris modeling allows for estimates of the unmeasured population and its possible effects on space operations. Modeling activities include developing a number of computer-based tools to supplement the limited measurement data and to assess the possible effects of space debris on DoD assets. Together, these models allow for estimates to be made of a wide spectrum of debris related hazards. Debris mitigation studies are conducted to develop strategies for debris minimization and protection. Activities include developing guidelines for controlling growth in the debris population, proposing minimization practices for DoD space systems, developing techniques to harden space assets against the effects of the debris environment if necessary, assisting DoD in planning space tests, and providing technical input for space debris policy formulation. The purpose of this paper is to present an overview of the space debris research and analysis capabilities that exist in the U.S. Department of Defense.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)959-977
Number of pages19
JournalAdvances in the Astronautical Sciences
StatePublished - 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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