Status Report

Building Small-Satellites to Live Through the Kessler Effect

By SpaceRef Editor
September 5, 2019
Filed under ,

Steven Morad, Himangshu Kalita, Ravi teja Nallapu, Jekan Thangavelautham

(Submitted on 2 Sep 2019)

The rapid advancement and miniaturization of spacecraft electronics, sensors, actuators, and power systems have resulted in growing proliferation of small-spacecraft. Coupled with this is the growing number of rocket launches, with left-over debris marking their trail. The space debris problem has also been compounded by test of several satellite killer missiles that have left large remnant debris fields. In this paper, we assume a future in which the Kessler Effect has taken hold and analyze the implications on the design of small-satellites and CubeSats. We use a multiprong approach of surveying the latest technologies, including the ability to sense space debris in orbit, perform obstacle avoidance, have sufficient shielding to take on small impacts and other techniques to mitigate the problem. Detecting and tracking space debris threats on-orbit is expected to be an important approach and we will analyze the latest vision algorithms to perform the detection, followed by quick reaction control systems to perform the avoidance. Alternately there may be scenarios where the debris is too small to track and avoid. In this case, the spacecraft will need passive mitigation measures to survive the impact. Based on these conditions, we develop a strawman design of a small spacecraft to mitigate these challenges. Based upon this study, we identify if there is sufficient present-day COTS technology to mitigate or shield satellites from the problem. We conclude by outlining technology pathways that need to be advanced now to best prepare ourselves for the worst-case eventuality of Kessler Effect taking hold in the upper altitudes of Low Earth Orbit.

Comments: 12 pages and 9 figures, accepted to Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference

Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Robotics (cs.RO); Space Physics (

Cite as: arXiv:1909.01342 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:1909.01342v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)

Submission history

From: Jekan Thangavelautham [view email] 

[v1] Mon, 2 Sep 2019 06:29:17 UTC (8,985 KB)

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