Orbital Debris Detection and Tracking RFI

February 08, 2022

IARPA seeks information regarding innovative approaches to detect and track currently undetectable orbital space debris.

Orbital debris collisions are a significant risk to Earth-orbiting spacecraft. With an average impact velocity of 10 km/s (22,500 MPH) in low Earth orbit (LEO), even the smallest pieces of debris can cause serious damage, as demonstrated by the 3.8 mm diameter pit produced by the impact of a 0.2 mm paint chip on STS-7. Currently, there are over 500,000 pieces of debris between 1 and 10 cm in diameter, and over 100 million particles smaller than 1 cm orbiting the Earth. The debris population is dynamic due to the influence of drag, driving the need for persistent monitoring. However, sub-centimeter debris cannot be detected with ground-based methods, and on-orbit detectors (e.g., the Long Duration Exposure Facility) can only sample the population at the detector altitude, by colliding with the debris. Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the USG no longer has a dedicated, calibrated on-orbit orbital debris detection sensor.

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Published Date: Feb 10, 2022

Response Date: Mar 11, 2022 05:00 pm EST

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