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Understanding and Dealing With the Problem of Space Debris

  • Start date: 23 May 2019 01:30 PM
  • End date: 23 May 2019 02:30 PM
  • Venue: Ngunnawal Theatre, Russell Offices




Since 1957, the near-earth population of trackable space objects has grown from 1 to over 18,000. These objects are typically softball size or larger.  Of these 18,000+ trackable objects, only several hundred are operational spacecraft.  In addition to the trackable objects, there are several hundred thousand objects the size of marbles and several million objects the size of sand grains. As a result, all spacecraft that operate in low-earth-orbit (such as the International Space Station) are subject to high-speed impacts by space junk, which is also called ‘space debris’ or ‘orbital debris’.  The threat of damage from high-speed orbital debris particle impacts has become a significant design consideration in the development and construction of long duration earth-orbiting spacecraft. 

During this presentation a variety of topics related to space debris will be reviewed, including:

  • Where does space debris come from?
  • How much space junk is really out there?
  • What happens when a spacecraft is hit by a piece of space junk?
  • How can we protect a spacecraft against damage by space debris impacts?
  • Is there any way to clean up the near earth region of space?
  • Will the situation improve or worsen in the future?

About the Presenter

Dr. William P. Schonberg, P.E., is a Professor in the Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering Department at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Dr. Schonberg is a registered professional engineer with over 30 years teaching and research experience in shock physics, spacecraft protection, hypervelocity impact, and penetration mechanics. The results of Dr. Schonberg’s research have been applied to a wide variety of engineering problems, including the development of orbital debris protection systems for spacecraft in low earth orbit, in-situ resource utilization for lunar habitats, kinetic energy weapons, and the collapse of buildings under explosive loads, insensitive munitions, and aging aircraft.

Recently, Dr. Schonberg was awarded a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Advanced Science and Technology, enabling him to spend 6 months at Defense Science and Technology Group to improve algorithms to more accurately predict target response to projectile impacts for a variety of engagement scenarios. While in Australia, Dr. Schonberg is a Visiting Professor at RMIT for lectures on space debris, engineering education, and the interaction between engineering and art.