DLR Project: Extended long-term simulation and cost analysis of active debris removal for space debris (ELKE) (2015 – 2017):

Active removal of space debris is a currently much discussed topic. To stabilise the current situation, especially in the low Earth orbit (LEO) regime, it might be necessary to remove certain objects with high mass and high collision risk from their orbit. As such missions are very expensive, it is necessary to assess their impact beforehand to both achieve an economic and scientific basis for political decisions.

In prior projects, the impact of active debris removal on the object population in Earth bound orbits was already investigated. For this, long-term projections of the space debris environment were performed, assuming different scenarios for the evolution of space flight. Among these a business-as-usual scenario (BAU) with different post-mission-disposal rates (PMD) and several active debris removal (ADR) scenarios. Furthermore, using cost models, the damage and avoidance costs of different scenarios were estimated.

The capabilities of the used tools for long-term projections, and with this the quality of the results, are continuously improved. In the direct predecessor “ELA – Extended long-term analysis of the future space debris population under consideration of active removal measures”, the structure of the used tool for long-term analysis LUCA (Long Term Utility for Collision Analysis) was extended, to allow GPU parallelisation of object propagation to shorten the computational time for the simulation. Furthermore, extended scenarios of the long-term evolution were simulated.

In ELKE, also the cost modelling will be improved. Based on a student’s thesis, it will be possible to analyse the impact of using different propulsion systems to deorbit satellites as well as different mission profiles. Using a to be defined interface, the model will be implemented directly into the long-term simulation tool, to analyse the scenarios directly based on their economic efficiency. Furthermore, the impact of uncertainties in the simulation parameters and simulation models themselves will be assessed. On the basis of these investigations, further long-term simulations will be performed.