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Proceedings Paper

Laser space debris removal: now, not later
Author(s): Claude R. Phipps
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Paper Abstract

Small (1-10cm) debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) are extremely dangerous, because they spread the breakup cascade depicted in the movie “Gravity.” Laser-Debris-Removal (LDR) is the only solution that can address both large and small debris. In this paper, we briefly review ground-based LDR, and discuss how a polar location can dramatically increase its effectiveness for the important class of sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) objects. No other solutions address the whole problem of large (~1000cm, 1 ton) as well as small debris. Physical removal of small debris (by nets, tethers and so on) is impractical because of the energy cost of matching orbits. We also discuss a new proposal which uses a space-based station in low Earth orbit (LEO), and rapid, head-on interaction in 10- 40s rather than 4 minutes, with high-power bursts of 100ps, 355nm pulses from a 1.5m diameter aperture. The orbiting station employs “heat-capacity” laser mode with low duty cycle to create an adaptable, robust, dualmode system which can lower or raise large derelict objects into less dangerous orbits, as well as clear out the small debris in a 400-km thick LEO band. Time-average laser optical power is less than 15kW. The combination of short pulses and UV wavelength gives lower required energy density (fluence) on target as well as higher momentum coupling coefficient. This combination leads to much smaller mirrors and lower average power than the ground-based systems we have considered previously. Our system also permits strong defense of specific assets. Analysis gives an estimated cost of about $1k each to re-enter most small debris in a few months, and about 280k$ each to raise or lower 1-ton objects by 40km. We believe it can do this for 2,000 such large objects in about four years. Laser ablation is one of the few interactions in nature that propel a distant object without any significant reaction on the source.

Paper Details

Date Published: 3 February 2015
PDF: 18 pages
Proc. SPIE 9255, XX International Symposium on High-Power Laser Systems and Applications 2014, 92553Q (3 February 2015); doi: 10.1117/12.2081487
Show Author Affiliations
Claude R. Phipps, Photonic Associates, LLC (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 9255:
XX International Symposium on High-Power Laser Systems and Applications 2014
Chun Tang; Shu Chen; Xiaolin Tang, Editor(s)

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