Preventing Collisions Between Debris and Spacecraft


JAXA has published the following Q&A interview with  Mayumi Matsuura, the space agency’s space situation awareness (SSA) system project manager.

— What is the current state of space debris monitoring in Japan?

Kamisaibara Spaceguard Center (Credit: JAXA)

Space debris is monitored at the Kamisaibara Spaceguard Center and the Bisei Spaceguard Center, both in Okayama Prefecture. At Kamisaibara, we use radar to monitor debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) up to an altitude of approximately 2,000 km. Although the size of debris that can be monitored depends on its altitude, we can simultaneously track a total of 10 targets 1 meter or more in diameter. At Bisei, we use an optical telescope, which allows us to monitor debris in geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) at an altitude of 36,000 km.

JAXA analyzes data from these facilities to pinpoint debris orbit and position, and when this data and other inputs show that there is a possibility of debris colliding with satellites, a warning is issued to the satellite team. This is the role of the Space Tracking and Communications Center (STCC), where I work. To avoid being hit by debris, all you need to do is change your orbit, so the center prepares detailed proposals on when and how to do this. In some cases, debris is expected not to burn up on reentry into the atmosphere, but to fall back to Earth. In these situations, my job is to predict where it will reenter the atmosphere.
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Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

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There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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A Look at the ISS Flight Manifest

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

There was a lot of discussion on Sunday about the impact of the loss of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft on the International Space Station. NASA officials said the ISS crew was in no danger from a supply standpoint, and they said they would stick to the existing schedule for crew rotation but might change the cargo manifest.

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