Statement on Space Debris at the 56th session of the Scientific-Technical Sub-Committee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS)


56th Session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UN COPUOS,
Vienna, 11 February - 22 February 2019

Item 7: Space debris

Madam Chair,

Distinguished Delegates,

As the number of close encounters in orbit between spacecraft and space debris is growing, this is also becoming an increasing concern to spacecraft owners and operators ‑ worldwide. Germany as a space faring nation with its own spacecraft in orbit aims at creating and preserving a safe environment in which those assets can be operated. As such, we are actively performing research on space debris, applying space debris mitigation measures to our national missions, and continuously improving our national capabilities in the field of Surveillance and Tracking of space debris.

Madam Chair,

We report here on three exemplary research activities that highlight the diverse aspects of the research that is being performed in Germany.

The analysis of the long-term evolution of space debris helps us to understand the impact of changing launch rates on the environment. This change in launch activities is today mainly caused by an increasing number of small satellites, an increasing number of commercial operators, and by the announced large constellations of satellites in Low Earth Orbit for low latency communication applications.

The potential impacts of these activities on the space debris environment and the effect of space debris mitigation measures have been studied extensively in Germany. The results also contribute to the activities of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee in this area.

Even small pieces of debris are capable of causing significant damage to satellites in case of an impact on vital systems. In the second research project we report on, a new numerical method is being applied to the case of hypervelocity impacts of small space debris on satellite structures. The first results obtained by the newly developed software are very promising and can reproduce the effects observed in laboratory experiments. Once this software is being fully validated by laboratory experiment, it will allow studying a large number of impact effects and help to improve future satellite design in order to better protect system-critical components of satellites.

The third research project comprises the development of an experimental surveillance and tracking radar. This system is called GESTRA – the German Experimental Surveillance and Tracking Radar. GESTRA is equipped with modern radar technology that allows observing and tracking space debris in the Low Earth Orbital regime simultaneously. The experimental system will become operational at the end of this year. It will contribute to our knowledge of space debris in Low Earth Orbit and its measurements will contribute to generate collision avoidance warnings for spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit. The system will be operated by the German Space Situational Awareness Centre – GSSAC – and its measurements will contribute to the information processed at the GSSAC.

Madam Chair,

Distinguished Delegates,

This was a brief report on three selected research activities in Germany. Many other research projects are ongoing, many of them in collaboration with international partners, for example within the IADC framework. What we learned from these research activities is that the strict application of space debris mitigation measures to all missions is mandatory to safeguard our very limited resource we are operating satellites in – especially the Low Earth Orbital Region.

Madam Chair, dear Delegates, thank you for your kind attention.

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