Modeling, Simulation, and Characterization of Space Debris in low-Earth Orbit Dissertation

(2013). Modeling, Simulation, and Characterization of Space Debris in low-Earth Orbit . 10.25148/etd.FI13120401

thesis or dissertation chair


  • McCall, Paul D


  • Every space launch increases the overall amount of space debris. Satellites have limited awareness of nearby objects that might pose a collision hazard. Astrometric, radiometric, and thermal models for the study of space debris in low-Earth orbit have been developed. This modeled approach proposes analysis methods that provide increased Local Area Awareness for satellites in low-Earth and geostationary orbit. Local Area Awareness is defined as the ability to detect, characterize, and extract useful information regarding resident space objects as they move through the space environment surrounding a spacecraft.

    The study of space debris is of critical importance to all space-faring nations. Characterization efforts are proposed using long-wave infrared sensors for space-based observations of debris objects in low-Earth orbit. Long-wave infrared sensors are commercially available and do not require solar illumination to be observed, as their received signal is temperature dependent. The characterization of debris objects through means of passive imaging techniques allows for further studies into the origination, specifications, and future trajectory of debris objects. Conclusions are made regarding the aforementioned thermal analysis as a function of debris orbit, geometry, orientation with respect to time, and material properties. Development of a thermal model permits the characterization of debris objects based upon their received long-wave infrared signals. Information regarding the material type, size, and tumble-rate of the observed debris objects are extracted. This investigation proposes the utilization of long-wave infrared radiometric models of typical debris to develop techniques for the detection and characterization of debris objects via signal analysis of unresolved imagery.

    Knowledge regarding the orbital type and semi-major axis of the observed debris object are extracted via astrometric analysis. This knowledge may aid in the constraint of the admissible region for the initial orbit determination process. The resultant orbital information is then fused with the radiometric characterization analysis enabling further characterization efforts of the observed debris object. This fused analysis, yielding orbital, material, and thermal properties, significantly increases a satellite’s Local Area Awareness via an intimate understanding of the debris environment surrounding the spacecraft.

publication date

  • November 15, 2013


  • Space debris
  • debris characterization

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)