NASA team to research new roles for the organization in tackling orbital debris


NASA establishes a working group to investigate what new roles the organization can take in order to alleviate the growth of orbital debris and boost space sustainability.

In a talk at the Secure World Foundation’s Summit for Space Sustainability on June 23, Bhavya Lal, says that she is leading a newly established team. The team will investigate how the organization can take a greater role in attempts to alleviate and remediate orbital debris. Bhavya is the senior adviser to the NASA administrator for budget and finance.

“We have built an orbital debris review unit in-house in order to estimate how NASA can be a more efficient leader in the field of space sustainability,” she says. “Our aim is to explore how NASA can be a better frontrunner in space sustainability.”

NASA’s attempts in orbital debris study, she says, have a focus mainly on safeguarding the organization’s specific missions. This is from the International Space Station to robotic spacecraft. “We are considering in this assessment team on factors that NASA can be doing further than what we do in safeguarding our own assets. Since we are the leaders in the broader community,” she adds.

Lal did not detail the team’s job further than that it is an interior NASA attempt rather than an interagency one. “We expect to be sharing our ideas with you in the coming months,” she says.

Bhavya Lal explains tackling the orbital debris challenge with a three-prong approach:

  1. Reducing the creation of new debris
  2. Improving tracking of debris
  3. Developing ways to remove debris.
That is similar, she argues, to ways of trading with climate change, with ongoing attempts to –
  • Lessen emissions
  • Track progress
  • Study ways to sequester greenhouse gases

It is also the model summarized in a National Orbital Debris Research and Development Plan, available in January. This is by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the last days of the Trump administration.

It found as three elements of the strategic ways to –
  • Limit the creation of debris
  • Track and characterize the debris
  • Remediate or repurpose debris

One possible area of activity would be effective debris exclusion. NASA is already emerging technologies for satellite repairing that could also be utilized to eliminate debris. That contains the On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (OSAM) 1 mission, previously known as Restore-L, presently in development.

That is drawn the attention of some in Congress. “You read in the paper quite a bit — and it seems like more and more — that space debris is becoming a challenge,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.). Mentions at a June 15 hearing of a Senate appropriations subcommittee on NASA’s budget proposal. “With OSAM-1, since you can fix in-space and lengthen the life of a satellite, it can assist address that problem.”

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