About the Space Debris Office
Since the mid-1980s, ESA has been active in all research, technology and operational aspects related to space debris.
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 team at ESOC has 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 team at ESTEC has a strong background in:
- In-situ impact sensor technology
- Vulnerability and impact damage analyses
- Hypervelocity accelerator technologies
- Hypervelocity impact shielding and protection
Since 2006, ESA has managed space debris responsibilities in ESOC's Space Debris Office in the Agency's Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Operations.
The Space Debris Office coordinates ESA's research activities on space debris, coordinates such activities with national research efforts, and provides operational services.
The Space Debris Office coordinates ESA's research activities in all major debris disciplines, including measurements, modelling, protection, and mitigation, and coordinates such activities with national research efforts with space agencies in Italy (ASI), the United Kingdom (UKSA), France (CNES) and Germany (DLR). Together with ESA, these national agencies form the European Network of Competences on Space Debris (SD NoC).
Contributing to ESA's Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme
ESA's Space Debris Office has also been a forerunner in the definition of a European Space Surveillance System, which is now being developed under ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme.
In 2013, this programme entered its second phase and the Space Debris Office continues to support research and system engineering activities on sensor design options and observation strategy definition, the formulation of customer and system requirements, architecture definition, concepts for catalogue build-up and maintenance, and the establishment of precursor services.
Since inception of the Agency’s CleanSpace initiative, ESA’s Space Debris Office has been in active support by conducting research and system engineering studies. CleanSpace is organised around four distinct branches, of which two are closely linked to space debris:
- Green technologies
- Space debris mitigation
- Technologies for space debris remediation.
Clean Space is being introduced as a cross-cutting theme within ESA's Technology programmes as part of Agenda 2015.
Serving the Agency and third-party customers
ESA's Space Debris Office provides operational services in support of planned and on-going missions within ESA and to third parties.
These services comprise in-orbit collision avoidance (forecasts, risk assessment, processing of conjunction messages, 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 information on all trackable objects in the DISCOS database (Database and Information System Characterising Objects in Space).
Technical excellence for space debris analyses
The Space Debris Office has developed and maintains several engineering tools for space debris analyses.
Engineering tools to support space debris analyses are provided by the Space Debris Office. These tools, which are available as ready-to-use, self-standing and self-installing software products, include:
- MASTER (Meteoroid and Space Debris Terrestrial Environment ) model for the prediction of debris and meteoroid particle fluxes
- PROOF (Program for Radar and Optical Observation Forecasts) tool for planning and simulation of radar and optical observations on ground or in space
- DRAMA (Debris Risk Assessment and Mitigation Analysis) for the verification of the compliance of space missions with mitigation guidelines
These tools are used by industry and academia worldwide.
Global cooperation and information exchange
Since 1984, ESA has organised or co-sponsored numerous 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).
Head of ESA Space Debris Office
64293 Darmstadt, Germany
Last update: 4 May 2016