NASA Selects three university-based teams to address Orbital Debris, Space Sustainability

Over the next year, NASA will support three university-based teams’ research proposals to examine orbital debris and the economic, social, and policy concerns involved with space sustainability.

Orbital debris consists of human-made objects orbiting Earth that no longer serve a purpose, including mission-related and fragmentation debris, nonfunctional spacecraft, and abandoned rocket stages.

Simulation of orbital debris around Earth demonstrating the object population in the geosynchronous region. IMAGE: NASA ODPO

NASA takes the threat of orbital debris seriously as these objects can endanger spacecraft, jeopardize access to space, and impede the development of a low-Earth orbit economy, including commercial participation. These new awards will fund research that supports the agency’s commitment to address the problem.

“Orbital debris is one of the great challenges of our era,” said Bhavya Lal, associate administrator for the Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Maintaining our ability to use space is critical to our economy, our national security, and our nation’s science and technology enterprise. These awards will fund research to help us understand the dynamics of the orbital environment and show how we can develop policies to limit debris creation and mitigate the impact of existing debris.”

A panel of experts evaluated and selected the following three proposals:

  • “Adaptive Space Governance and Decision-Support using Source-Sink Evolutionary Environmental Models,” submitted by Richard Linares and Danielle Wood of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Moriba Jah of the University of Texas-Austin
  • “An Integrated Assessment Model for Satellite Constellations and Orbital Debris,” submitted by Akhil Rao of Middlebury College, Daniel Kaffine of the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation
  • “Communication and Space Debris: Connecting with Public Knowledges and Identities,” submitted by Patrice Kohl, Sergio Alvarez, and Philip Metzger of the University of Central Florida