Affordable debris removal and collection in leo

J. Pearson, E. Levin, J. Carroll

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We consider three debris removal campaigns in low Earth orbit based on the capabilities of a specially designed vehicle. The ElectroDynamic Debris Eliminator (EDDE) is a vehicle of a new class for LEO. It is solar-powered and uses electric current in a long conductor to thrust against the Earth's magnetic field. Operating without propellant, EDDE can repeatedly change its altitude by hundreds of kilometers per day and its orbital plane by several degrees per day. EDDE weighs about 100 kg, but it can move multi-ton payloads. A dozen EDDE vehicles can remove all large debris from LEO in about 7 years. They can all be launched on one ESPA ring (two per slot), but our analysis shows that phased deployment has advantages. Two EDDE vehicles can be launched every year and retired after 5 years of service. In 9 years of operation, 2,000 tons of large legacy debris and 97% of the collision-generated debris potential in LEO can be removed at an average cost of less than S400 per kg and an average annual cost of less than $90M. We also considered a campaign that removes only upper stages from LEO. In 7 years of operation, 1,000 tons of upper stages and 79% of the collision-generated debris potential can be removed at an average cost of less than S500 per kg and an average annual cost of about S70M. In these campaigns, debris objects are dragged to altitudes below ISS and released for natural decay. However, uncontrolled reentry may not be desirable for objects that are not expected to burn up completely, and there is a way to avoid it. In the third campaign, all old upper stages currently orbiting above 600 km in the 71-74°, 81-83°, and the Sun-sync clusters are moved to 650 km and assembled in several maneuverable collections, reducing the collision-generated debris potential by more than 70%. Each collection is propelled electrodynamically without fuel expenditure for collision avoidance and orbit maintenance. When technology is developed, the collections may be reprocessed into construction materials. This could be the starting point for large-scale space manufacturing. Debris collection may provide the launching states with a de facto relief from 1) strict liability for damages on the ground, because it prevents reentry; 2) at-fault liability for damages in orbit, because the object is moved by the collection entity; and 3) the object itself, once it is collected and recycled.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication63rd International Astronautical Congress 2012, IAC 2012
Number of pages10
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
Event63rd International Astronautical Congress 2012, IAC 2012 - Naples, Italy
Duration: 1 Oct 20125 Oct 2012

Publication series

NameProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
ISSN (Print)0074-1795


Conference63rd International Astronautical Congress 2012, IAC 2012


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