The fundamentals of the work in field of space engineering at the Institute of Space Systems are the skills and applications of basic and advanced orbital mechanics. A major research aspect is the modelling of behavior and distribution of space debris (“space junk”) in Earth orbit. Within the MASTER project (ESA's Meteoroid and Space Debris Terrestrial Environment Reference Model), detailed research on the space debris environment was carried out. MASTER is the European model to assess the risk of high velocity impacts of space debris on satellites in Earth orbit. MASTER was developed under the direction of the Institute of Space Systems in cooperation with several European partners on behalf of ESA. MASTER is using a highly complex model of the space environment to calculate the spatial densities and velocity distributions of space debris including natural meteoroids. Though, it provides a realistic view of the near-Earth space debris environment. Consequently, it allows users to analyze the probability of high collision impacts on satellites.
MASTER-2009 is one of the leading models for the representation of the near-Earth space debris environment since it accounts for all relevant sources of space debris. The model is based on the simulation of events, i.e. explosions or collisions of space vehicles, where individual fragments have been released. During the simulations, clouds of different fragments are generated and their distributions over time are analyzed. The different orbits of the simulated objects are thereby calculated continuously taking into account all occurring perturbations up to a certain point in time. This allows to determine the distribution of space debris at the present time. Important events where space debris are generated are ie. the release of slag particles from solid rocket motor engines, explosions of upper stages as well as the NaK coolant release from nuclear reactors. Recent investigations in the field of space debris even indicate the degradation of multi-layer insulation, which are also processed by the MASTER model.
Consequently and among other things, users can derive flux density distributions of all space debris in LEO and for altitudes up to the geostationary orbit.
A particular challenge is to ensure compliance of the predicted object flux through the MASTER software with the observations of ground-based radars and telescopes. Therefore, ESA-PROOF 2009 was also developed under the direction of the Institute of Space Systems. PROOF is able to simulate observation campaigns and provides for a correct interpretation of the results based on the generated space debris population.
By requesting a free access to Space Debris User Portal, it is possible to obtain a digital version of the software.
The development of MASTER-2009 and PROOF-2009 was carried out by the Institute of Space Systems at the TU Braunschweig. It was supported by EADS Astrium Satellites.