The Space Debris Office coordinates ESA's research activities in all major debris disciplines. These include measurements, modelling, protection, and mitigation. It also coordinates such activities with national research efforts with space agencies in Italy (ASI), the United Kingdom (BNSC), France (CNES) and Germany (DLR). Together with ESA, these national agencies form the European Network of Competences on Space Debris (SD NoC).
Agency expertise is mainly concentrated at the European Space Operations Centre (ESA/ESOC), Darmstadt, Germany, and the European Space Research & Technology Centre (ESA/ESTEC), Noordwijk, The Netherlands.
The debris team at ESOC have developed long-standing experience in the areas of:
- Radar and optical measurements and their simulation
- Development of space debris and meteoroid environment and risk assessment models
- Analysis of debris mitigation measures and their effectiveness for long-term environmental stability
- In-orbit collision risk assessments
- Re-entry safety analyses
- Space debris database issues
The debris team at ESTEC have a strong background in:
- In-situ impact sensor technology
- Vulnerability and impact damage analyses
- Hypervelocity accelerator technologies
- Hypervelocity impact shielding and protection
Since the mid-1980s, ESA has been active in all relevant research, technology and operational aspects related to space debris.
Contributing to ESA's Space Situational Awareness programme
ESA's Space Debris Office has also been a forerunner in the definition of a European Space Surveillance System.
This project is now part of the preparatory program of the more comprehensive Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme; the Space Debris Office supports related research activities on sensor design options, system performance requirements and catalogue maintenance concepts.
Serving the Agency and third-party customers
ESA's Space Debris Office provides operational services in support of planned and ongoing missions within ESA and to third parties.
These services comprise in-orbit collision avoidance (forecasts, prediction refinements and avoidance manoeuvre recommendations), re-entry prediction and risk assessment (prediction of re-entry time and location, forecast of spacecraft disintegration and demise and on-ground risk assessment) and maintenance of space situational awareness information on all trackable objects in the DISCOS database (Database and Information System Characterising Objects in Space).
Technical excellence for space debris analysis
The Space Debris Office has developed and maintains several engineering tools for space debris analysis.
These tools, which are available as ready-to-use, self-standing and self-installing software products, include MASTER-2005 (prediction of debris and meteoroid particle fluxes on user-defined target orbits), PROOF-2005 (planning and simulation of radar and optical debris observation campaigns) and DRAMA (verification of the compliance of space missions with mitigation guidelines).
Global cooperation and information exchange
Since 1984, ESA has organised or co-sponsored several international conferences dealing with space debris. These include the quadrennial series of European Conferences on Space Debris, COSPAR Conferences (Committee on Space Research), IAC Congresses (International Astronautical Congress) and IAASS Conferences (Internal Association for the Advancement of Space Safety).
Space Debris Office
ESA/ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany