Implementation of National Space Policy on US Air Force End of Life Operations and Orbital Debris Mitigation
AIR FORCE SPACE DEVELOPMENT AND TEST WING KIRTLAND AFB NM
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Recent changes to US space policy regarding the execution of satellite End of Life EOL procedures have been driven by the rising significance of the orbital debris problem in Low Earth Orbit LEO. Therefore current EOL plans are written largely with the aim of reducing long-lasting debris that can linger for decades in the orbit of the defunct satellite. Through an exhaustive discussion of US National, Department of Defense and Air Force Space Command policies for mitigation of orbital debris, this paper details several considerations for writing operational EOL plans, with special applicability to military missions and focus on LEO satellites that are unable to relocate to a graveyard orbit. Further, the recent ungainly re-entry of NASAs Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite UARS has highlighted the need to incorporate debris mitigation into the EOL plan after contact has been lost or during re-entry in the interest of public safety. In light of this incident, methods currently used by Air Force Orbital Safety professionals to assess and minimize orbital debris released during and after EOL satellite passivation by accidental explosions, by intentional breakup and due to on-orbit collisions with existing debris are discussed. As integral parts of a holistic EOL plan, re-entry survivability analysis, casualty expectation analysis and intentional breakup activities are also addressed.