Scientist protects crafts from space debris in the Earth-Moon region

A Purdue University engineer is exploring how to spot and track all human-made objects and predict the impact of their potential damage in the Cislunar region. 
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of space debris.jpg
Representational image of space debris.


Space is crowded. Particularly the region between Earth and the Moon. That part is full of space debris.

To protect new craft from being hit by such space waste, Purdue University engineer Carolin Frueh is exploring how to spot and keep track of all human-made objects and predict the impact of their potential damage in this Earth-Moon neighborhood, called the Cislunar region. 

This is according to a press release by the institution published on Wednesday.

“There will never actually be a final answer to a space traffic management problem because as the commercial sector grows and the capabilities and types of vehicles that you have change, the problem will evolve, too,”  Frueh, a Purdue associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, said. 

“So when we think about the techniques that we want to use, we also have to be sure that what we have in mind can evolve over time.”

We're surrounded in space debris

Approximately 130 million pieces of space debris, broken off of satellites that exploded or collided with other objects, surround Earth. 

To address the resulting traffic in Cislunar space, Frueh has been pulling from her research on how spacecraft become debris, working with space agencies around the world to improve current, up-to-date databases of space objects.

But Cislunar space, unlike near-Earth orbits, doesn't have telescopes that can serve as “traffic cameras” for satellites. So Frueh is developing a way to create “visibility maps” that would show the best regions telescopes should use to find and track human-made objects in the Cislunar region.

Her visibility maps make use of models that quickly and comprehensively indicate where telescopes should go to observe as much of the Cislunar region as possible. 

“It’s like planning a road trip. Right now, we have identified points of interest in the Cislunar region to observe with telescopes, but we haven’t found the route yet for putting the telescopes there,” Frueh said.

Since traffic accidents cannot be avoided altogether in Cislunar space, Frueh is also working on a method to estimate the damage an accident could cause, like speculating as to where all the pieces of a collided craft will end up.

So far, she has found that pieces from a fragmented satellite can travel long distances in a relatively short amount of time, even heading all the way back to Earth from deep into Cislunar space.

“We are laying the foundations that we believe will shape how space traffic management problems are addressed in the Cislunar region,” Frueh said in the statement.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board