|The launch of Sputnik in October 1957 marked not only man's first foray
into the heavens, it also spawned the origins of "space junk." Space junk,
or orbital debris, is the growing accumulation of man-made trash that encircles
the earth. Comprised of spent rocket parts, nuts, bolts, paint chips, and
disintegrated spacecraft, orbital debris has become a potentially serious
hazard to satellites today.
Engineers who study astrodynamics and whose mission it is to plot the safe course of current and planned satellites through the debris field, must know as best as possible the exact location, size, and future location of each fragment--down to the size of a grapefruit--at any given time to minimize risks.
Our Space Debris Research Program has developed a simulation software package called the Debris Analysis Workstation (DAW). DAW enables analysts, who are not necessarily debris experts, to predict hazards to orbiting satellites posed by existing debris, and the debris produced by the breakup of spacecraft already in orbit.
Using the proper software, analysts can model a variety of debris scenarios, such as those resulting from an exploding satellite or a collision with another object. Calculating for collision probability and potential for structural damage is also possible.
By entering the type of explosion or collision, as well as the positions, velocities, materials, and structural characteristics of the objects involved, analysts can determine the likely outcome of the "breakup event" and make risk assessments for the satellites in question.