Space debris: Solutions and Dilemmas



Jan M. Stupl, SGT, Inc. / Mission Design Division, NASA Ames Research Center

Date and Time

February 27, 2017 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM



RSVP required by 5PM February 24.


Encina Hall, 2nd floor

Abstract: Space debris are leftovers from human activities in space. Earth orbit gets increasingly congested by a rising number of active spacecraft and debris, resulting in an increased risk of collision. Collisions with debris can destroy entire spacecraft, resulting in economic loss or worse. The additional debris increases the risk of further collision. There are several dilemmas: If we want to further our venture into space beyond what is possible today, a vastly increased number of rocket launches are necessary. That could negatively impact the debris environment and make further space endeavors more challenging. Proposed active debris removal methods could lessen that problem. However, such methods have dual-use implications, because a capability to remove large pieces of debris from orbit also implies a capability to remove active spacecraft. Hence, building up a debris removal capability could be seen as a threat to other nations' satellites. This talk will give an overview about origins of debris, projections of the future debris environment, and debris mitigation methods and their security implications. A special focus will be on a less invasive debris mitigation method based on ground-based lasers and research to assess its efficiency using long-term debris projections.

About the Speaker: Jan Stupl is an affiliate and a former postdoctoral fellow at CISAC.  He is currently a Research Scientist with SGT, a government contractor, and works in the Mission Design Division at NASA Ames Research Center (Mountain View, CA). In the Mission Design Division, Jan conducts research on novel methods for laser communication and space debris mitigation and supports concept development for space missions.

Before his current position, Jan was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University until 2011, investigating technical and policy implications of high power lasers for missile defense and as anti-satellite weapons (ASAT), as well as the proliferation of ballistic missiles. The research on laser ASATs focuses on damage mechanisms, the potential sources and countries of origin of laser ASATs and ways to curb their international proliferation. Before coming to CISAC, Jan was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH) at the University of Hamburg, Germany. His PhD dissertation was a physics-based analysis of future of High Energy Lasers and their application for missile defense and focused on the Airborne Laser missile defense system. This work was jointly supervised by the IFSH, the Institute of Laser and System Technologies at Hamburg University of Technology and the physics department of Hamburg University, where he earned his PhD in 2008. His interest in security policy and international politics was fuelled by an internship at the United Nations in New York in 2003.


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