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T.Keith Glennan Memorial Library

Space Debris

Revised: March 2012

"Space is big/Space is dark/You'll always find/A place to park/Burma Shave" - S. Harris.

While that might have been the truth when Burma Shave was still in business (1925-1963), it's not the case today. The space between the Earth and the Moon is filled with all kinds of trash, ranging from the mundane, such as burnt out rocket casings and broken satellites, to the bizarre, including a spacesuit (fortunately without a wearer)! Although several Space Shuttle missions have demonstrated that satellites can be patched up in orbit or brought back to Earth for more extensive repairs, a broken satellite is normally written off and left to its own devices. Unlike junk on Earth, which gets picked up and hauled to a recycling station or a dump, space debris can circle the Earth for years and years until it slams into something, creating yet more space debris. Space debris can also be caused by experiments with anti-satellite weapons. For instance, the space debris plague worsened in 2007 after the Chinese destroyed the Fengyun-1C, one of their weather satellites, with a missile, creating a cloud of junk that will spread out beyond the space through which the Fengyun-1C travelled.

Currently, there are several efforts to mitigate the problem:

  • Pieces of space debris are tracked by radar, so that spacecraft can be steered around them.
  • Spacecraft can be built to survive impacts from space debris. This will also protect them from meteoroid impacts.
  • Several of the spacefaring nations have agreed to measures to reduce the number of derelict satellites that could hit working satellites by steering aging satellites into otherwise useless orbits or into paths that will cause them to harmlessly burn up in the atmosphere of the Earth.

This webpage will cover resources on space debris and the hazards it presents to our continuing use of space. All items are available at the Headquarters Library, except as noted. NASA Headquarters employees and contractors: Call x0168 or email Library@hq.nasa.gov for information on borrowing or in-library use of any of these items. Members of the public: Contact your local library for the availability of these items. NASA Headquarters employees can request additional materials or research on this topic. The Library welcomes your comments or suggestions about this webpage.

Contents: Policies and Standards Books E-books Articles and Reports Internet Resources

NASA Policies and Standards

The following standards, policies, and procedural requirements can be accessed by anyone through the NASA Online Directives Information System or through the NASA Standards website:
NASA Policy Directive 8010.3B: Notification of Intent to Decommission or Terminate Operating Space Systems and Terminate Missions
NASA Procedural Requirements 8715.6A: NASA Procedural Requirements for Limiting Orbital Debris
NASA-HDBK-8719.14: Handbook for Limiting Orbital Debris
NASA-STD-8719.14: Process for Limiting Orbital Debris (Rev. A)


Bendisch, Joerg (ed.). Space Debris and Space Traffic Management Symposium 2003: Proceedings of the International Academy of Astronautics Space Debris and Space Traffic Management Symposium: Held in conjunction with the 54th International Astronautical Congress (IAC): Sept. 29-Oct. 3, 2003, Bremen, Germany. San Diego, CA: Published for the American Astronautical Society by Univelt, 2004. ISBN: 0877035164
__________. Space Debris and Space Traffic Management Symposium 2004: Proceedings of the International Academy of Astronautics Space Debris and Space Traffic Management Symposium: Held in conjunction with the 55th International Astronautical Congress (IAC): Oct. 4-8, 2004, Vancouver, BC, Canada. San Diego, CA: Published for the American Astronautical Society by Univelt, 2005. ISBN: 0877035237
__________. Space Debris and Space Traffic Management Symposium 2005: Proceedings of the International Academy of Astronautics Space Debris and Space Traffic Management Symposium: Held in conjunction with the 56th International Astronautical Congress (IAC): October 17-21, 2005, Fukuoka, Japan. San Diego, CA: Published for the American Astronautical Society by Univelt, 2006. ISBN: 0877035334
Klinkrad, H. Space Debris: Models and Risk Analysis. Berlin, Germany, New York, NY: Springer; Chichester, UK: Published in association with Praxis Pub., 2006. ISBN: 354025448X
TL1499 .K55 2006 BOOKSTACKS
Milne, Antony. Sky Static: The Space Debris Crisis. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. ISBN: 0275977498
TL1499 .M55 2002 BOOKSTACKS
National Research Council (U.S.). Limiting Future Collision Risk to Spacecraft: An Assessment of NASA's Meteroid and Orbital Debris Programs. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2011. ISBN: 9780309219747
TL1499 .I346 2011 BOOKSTACKS
Available to the general public through the National Academies Press
Taylor, Michael W. Orbital Debris: Technical and Legal Issues and Solutions. Montreal, Que.: Institute of Air and Space Law, Faculty of Law, McGill University, 2006.
TL1499 .T1395 2006 BOOKSTACKS
Available to the general public as document no. ADA453419 through DTIC.


The e-book listed below is available to the general public through the National Academies Press.
Committee for the Assessment of NASA's Orbital Debris Programs. Summary of the Workshop to Identify Gaps and Possible Directions for NASA's Micrometeoroid and Orbital Debris Programs. 2011.

Articles and Reports

Arnold, Jim, et al. Handbook for Designing MMOD Protection. JSC-64399. NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, Jan. 28, 2009.
(20090010053: (July 2009) NTRS)
Cepollina, Frank J., et al. Method and Associated Apparatus for Capturing, Servicing, and De-orbiting Earth Satellites Using Robotics. US Patent no. 7293743. NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, Nov. 13, 2007.
(20080009621: (April 2008) NTRS)
Gavin, Richard T. "NASA's Orbital Debris Conjuction Assessment and Collision Avoidance Strategy", in: 2010 AAS Guidance and Control Conference, Breckenridge, CO, Feb. 6-10, 2010.
(20100005139: (Feb. 2010) NTRS)
Hollandsworth, Edgar M. "The Space Debris Crisis: Time for an International Treaty", Strategy Research Project, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA, March 23, 2011.
(ADA553047: (March 2011) DTIC)
Hyde, James L., et al. "Micrometeoroid and Orbital Debris Threat Mitigation Techniques for the Space Shuttle Orbiter", in: Fifth European Conference on Space Debris, Darmstadt, Germany, March 30-April 2, 2009.
(20090010336: (July 2009) NTRS)
Ireland, Susan M. "Dodging Bullets: The Threat of Space Debris to U.S. National Security", Master's thesis, Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, KS, June 11, 2010.
(ADA524448: (June 2010) DTIC)
Johnson, Nicholas L. "Preserving the Near-Earth Space Environment with Green Engineering and Operations", in: NASA Green Engineering Masters Forum, San Francisco, CA, Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2009.
(20090032041: (Sept. 2009) NTRS)
Johnson, Nicholas L., and Keiner Klinkrad. "The International Space Station and the Space Debris Environment: 10 Years On", in: 5th European Conference on Space Debris, Darmstadt, Germany, March 30-April 2, 2009.
(20090004997: (July 2010) NTRS)
Johnson, Nicholas L., et al. History of On-Orbit Satellite Fragmentations. NASA/TM-2008-214779. NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, May 2008.
(20080022435: (July 2008) NTRS)
Matney, Mark. "Statistical Issues for Uncontrolled Reentry Hazards", in: International Association of Advancement in Space Safety, Rome, Italy, Oct. 21-23, 2008.
(20080045805: (Dec. 2008) NTRS)
Shell, James R. "Commercially-Hosted Payloads for Debris Monitoring and Mission Assurance in GEO", in: Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference (AMOS), Maui, HI, Sept. 12-16, 2011.
(ADA550785: (Sept. 2011) DTIC)
Wilson, William C., Neil C. Coffey, and Eric I. Madaras. Leak Detection and Location Technology Assessment for Aerospace Applications. NASA/TM-2008-215347. Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, Sept. 2008.
(20080041598: (Nov. 2008) NTRS)

Internet Resources

The Aerospace Corporation. Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies. 2011 [March 16, 2012].
ESA Space Debris Office. Jan. 25, 2012 [March 16, 2012].
Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. 2011. [March 16, 2012].
This site links to several studies on space debris and international compacts to mitigate the problem.
Kinard, William H. Space Environments and Technology Archive System (SETAS). Jan. 16, 2007 [March 16, 2012].
This site holds a great deal of information on the wear and tear on different materials and structures in orbit.
Melrae Pictures. Space Junk 3D. 2012 [March 19, 2012].
Stansbery, Eugene. NASA Orbital Debris Program Office. Jan. 2012 [March 16, 2012].
United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. National Research on Space Debris, NPS and Other Related Subjects: Index of Online Documents. 2006 [March 19, 2012].
__________. Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. 2010 [March 19, 2012].
__________. Space Debris and Nuclear Power Sources. 2010 [March 16, 2012].
Vorsmann, Peter. Space Debris. Dec. 18, 2010 [March 16, 2012].

Last Updated: March 2012