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Tackling the next generation of debris hiding in orbit: Carbon fibres



Prime contractor
Organisational Unit
Implementation progress
02 January 2020

Duration: 36 months


Space debris environment models, which drive observation strategies and mitigation aspects such as shielding, generally consider 7 classes of objects: intact space vehicles, explosion and collision fragments thereof, NaK, solid rocket motor particles, MLI, paint flakes, and ejecta. The second category of explosion and collision fragments, which affects all size regimes from objects detectable from ground to micrometre sizes inferred from space samples, is where a new issue is emerging due to the change in design of space vehicles. When modelling the proliferation of  fragments based on observations a broad set of assumptions are required before a measurement can be converted into size information. Nearly always the assumption is that we are looking at a metallic spherical object. The other input to models are on-ground hypervelocity impact tests, where many samples are available and the effects can be identified. In such tests materials based on fibres, such as CFRP (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastics), disintegrate differently from metallic counterparts. In particularly, they do not disintegrate in plates and pallets but create thin whiskers or clusters thereof. Whilst the behaviour of such whiskers in space is unknown, fact is that the continued disintegration of objects in space during the last decade will have created such a population. The idea is thus to account for these object in all aspects of small debris mitigation by addressing the following questions: How can we remotely observe carbon fibres in space? What is the impact of the elongated shape of fibres at hyper-velocity? Do proposed small debris remediation strategies hold for carbon fibres or are truly novel ideas required?  The idea aims to provide the solid ground for the space safety aspects of small debris by defining the share of sources and behaviour of the elements which contribute. This hasn't been attempted so far and is hence expected to have a significant impact on the development of methods aimed at removing small debris as well as on in-situ debris sensors flow on space missions.

Contract number
OSIP Idea Id
Related OSIP Campaign
internal Campaign on Space Debris
Topical cluster
Tackling the next generation of debris hiding in orbit: Carbon fibres