NASA funds studies of orbital debris and sustainability due to the threat of space debris


NASA is funding research proposals from three university teams as part of the US space agency’s efforts to address orbital debrisalso known as space debris and that represent a threat.

The proposals are scheduled for 2023 and will analyze the economic, social and political problems associated with space sustainability.

Orbital debris is man-made objects orbiting the Earth that no longer serve a purpose, including mission-related debris and fragmentation, non-functioning spacecraft and derelict rocket stages.

NASA takes the threat of orbital debris very seriously, as these objects may jeopardize spacecraft, access to space, and impede the development of a low-Earth orbit economy, including commercial engagement”, warns the agency in its publication.

Space debris is a challenge for NASA

Bhavya Lal, Associate Administrator for the Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS) at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said: “Orbital debris is one of the great challenges of our time”.

Maintaining our ability to use space is critical to our economy, our national security, and our nation’s science and technology enterprise.”.


The three proposals chosen by NASA experts are:

  • Adaptive spatial governance and decision support using evolutionary source-sink environmental models”, presented 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”, presented 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: connection with knowledge and public identities”, presented by Patrice Kohl, Sergio Alvarez and Philip Metzger of the University of Central Florida

Lal added: “The investigations will serve 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”.

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