NASA's New Tool Identifies Space Debris Risk Around The Globe

NASA's New Tool Identifies Space Debris Risk Around The Globe

Washington, DC - NASA has developed a new tool to identify areas around the globe where the risk of space debris collisions is highest. The tool, called the Space Debris Risk Assessment Map, uses data on space object collisions, explosion, and other events to determine the risk of debris hitting critical infrastructure on Earth.

Details:

The map is a first-of-its-kind assessment that combines satellite tracking data with a geographic information system (GIS) to identify areas around the world with elevated risk of space debris collisions. It was developed by NASA's Navigation and Special Missions Office in partnership with Esri, a company that provides GIS software to organizations working in agriculture, construction, conservation, and several other fields.

NASA researchers used data on space object collisions and explosions collected over the past decade to develop a model illustrating areas of the world that are at higher risk of debris impacting important infrastructure, including highly populated areas, airports, and critical communications networks. The map is intended to help stakeholders, including governments and industry leaders, make informed decisions about mitigating the risk of space debris.

It illustrates the world's space debris risk hierarchy, which is based on the number of objects launched, the higher average density of objects in certain orbits, and documented events in which debris scattered into different orbits. Areas with a higher risk of debris collisions include those where important infrastructure, such as communications facilities and airports, are located. These areas are in Alaska, California, Florida, Louisiana, and New Mexico in the United States; Perth in Australia; the Arabian Peninsula; and western Europe.

This map is a visual representation of the fine line between space exploration and responsibility. It shows that even the most remote places on Earth are still at risk of suffering consequences should a catastrophic event occur in space, highlighting the need for responsible space exploration, and eventual debris mitigation, in order to protect our home planet.

The map also offers insight into the location of important economic assets at risk and allows viewers to consider the geographic context of satellite orbits and the impact of space debris. It aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure.

How it Works

The Space Debris Risk Assessment Map uses a GIS-based model to identify areas at risk of space debris collisions. The model pulls from a database of tracked space objects and their corresponding orbits as well as a database of infrastructure locations on Earth. It analyzes the likelihood of debris from an explosion in space reaching critical infrastructure on Earth based on these factors.

The map displays these risk assessments visually using gradient colors, with areas with the highest risk highlighted in deep red and areas with the lowest risk in light orange. This visualization aims to help governments and industry leaders make informed decisions about the risk of space debris events.

Background

Space debris is a growing challenge with many implications for the future of space exploration. With the number of objects launched into space increasing every year, the risk of space debris collisions and explosions that could cascade into longer-term debris creation is also growing. This could impede domain awareness and safe navigation for future missions.

NASA has been tracking space debris for more than 50 years, and the agency's experience observing, modeling, and mitigating the risk of space debris is part of what makes this new tool possible. The agency continues to research and develop new tools and technologies to study and mitigate space debris.

The Space Debage Risk Assessment Map is released in the lead-up to the 2022 UNISPACE+50 conference, which will highlight the contributions of space to sustainable development and highlight critical issues including space debris. UNISPACE+50 will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the UN's first conference on the peaceful uses of outer space.

Sources

NASA - Space Debris Risk Assessment Map: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/SOVE/news/space-debris-risk-assessment-map.html

Esri: https://www.esri.com/en-us/about/news/releases/jectory/2023/esri-and-nasa-launch-space-debris-risk-assessment-map/

UNISPACE+50: https://www.un.org/en/space-conference-unispace-50-14-june-2022

Inline Images:

A screenshot of the risk assessment map
A screenshot highlighting the areas with the highest risk in red
A screenshot of risk assessment map's legend

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