Wholesale debris removal from LEO

Eugene Levin, Jerome Pearson*, Joseph Carroll

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent advances in electrodynamic propulsion make it possible to seriously consider wholesale removal of large debris from LEO for the first time since the beginning of the space era. Cumulative ranking of large groups of the LEO debris population and general limitations of passive drag devices and rocket-based removal systems are analyzed. A candidate electrodynamic debris removal system is discussed that can affordably remove all debris objects over 2 kg from LEO in 7 years. That means removing more than 99% of the collision-generated debris potential in LEO. Removal is performed by a dozen 100-kg propellantless vehicles that react against the Earths magnetic field. The debris objects are dragged down and released into short-lived orbits below ISS. As an alternative to deorbit, some of them can be collected for storage and possible in-orbit recycling. The estimated cost per kilogram of debris removed is a small fraction of typical launch costs per kilogram. These rates are low enough to open commercial opportunities and create a governing framework for wholesale removal of large debris objects from LEO.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-108
Number of pages9
JournalActa Astronautica
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Active debris removal
  • Debris capture
  • Electrodynamic propulsion
  • Electrodynamic tether
  • Orbital debris


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