Satellites orbiting Earth travel at many miles per second – so what happens when their paths cross? Satellite collisions are rare and their consequences are poorly understood, so a new project tries to simulate them to better predict future space debris.
So far, only four such collisions have occurred in space history – most of the space debris comes from explosions of fuel tanks or batteries – but they are expected to become more common.
"We want to understand what happens when two satellites collide," ESA structural engineer Tiziana Cardone explains the project.
"So far, many assumptions have been made about how the very high collision energy would dissipate, but we do not have a solid understanding of the physics involved.
" We want to be able to detail how satellites would dissolve and how many debris would be produced to improve the quality of our models and predictions.
The total energy is orders of magnitude higher than the typical al engineering for space structure, which focuses on enduring the power of launch. "This is a truly unknown area," adds Tiziana.
"We must Holger Krag of the ESA Space Debris Office explains: "We are currently working on expensive debris reduction strategies based on our understanding of debris." We project the development of the debris environment up to 200 years ahead.
"Of the four known clashes, only one of them occurred in the way we expected, with both satellites crashing catastrophically and creating debris clouds, the others being very different, so something is missing from our image We hope to understand what happened in the actual collisions to substantiate our modeling. "
Two different types of software simulations are performed: at the German Fraunhofer Institute for Short-Time Dynamics and at a consortium under the leadership of the Center for Space Studies and Activities at the University of Padua, Italy.
The first approach is based on a sophisticated method Numerical method for simulating the deformation and fragmentation processes in a collision The colliding objects have realistic structural and mechanical properties n, represented by a "finite element mesh".
These elements are converted into discrete particles as satellite fragments. This allows the simulation of the structural response of the satellites to the collision as well as the generation of the fragment cloud and its evolution over time.
The second approach treats the spacecraft as consisting of larger elements, such as fuel tanks or solar systems connected to physical connections. When the energy transfer of the collision takes place, these connections are disconnected and the elements are fragmented. A library of past simulations and empirical data shows how these elements fragment under the force of impact.
The two types of simulation together ̵
Once these simulations duplicate the observed reality, they are used to reproduce the full effects of 500 satellites on a kg scale
The first known collision occurred in 1991, when a piece of cosmos 926 was struck in the Russian cosmos in 1934. In 1996, the French satellite Cerise was hit by a fragment of an Ariane 4 rocket. In 2005, a US upper school was hit by a third-tier fragment of a Chinese missile. In 2009, an iridium satellite collided with the Russian Cosmos-2251.
Space Disbris Office of ESA
Space Technology News – Applications and Research
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