NASA will provide the International Space Station with a new Space Debris Sensor (SDS) to monitor micrometeoroid orbital debris revolving in low Earth orbit.
The sensor, launched on SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle, will help study impacts caused by small-scale orbital debris for a period of two to three years.
According to NASA, the collected data will help improve station safety by generating a more accurate estimate of the amount of small-scale debris that cannot be tracked from the ground and helping define better spacecraft shielding requirements.
Orbital debris as small as .3mm can pose serious danger to human spaceflight and robotic missions, says Joseph Hamilton, the project’s principal investigator.
“Debris this small has the potential to damage exposed thermal protection systems, spacesuits, windows and unshielded sensitive equipment. On the space station, it can create sharp edges on handholds along the path of spacewalkers, which can also cause damage to the suits.”
Once mounted on the exterior of the Columbus module aboard the space station, the sensor will provide near-real-time impact detection and recording capabilities.
Using a three-layered acoustic system, the SDS characterizes the size, speed, direction and density of these small particles. The first two layers are meant to be penetrated by the debris. This dual-film system provides the time, location and speed of the debris, while the final layer – a Lexan backstop – provides the density of the object.
The first and second layers of the SDS are identical, equipped with acoustic sensors and .075mm wide resistive lines. If a piece of debris damages the first layer, it cuts through one or more of the resistive lines before impacting and going through the second layer. Finally, the debris hits the backstop plate.
Although the backstop won’t be used to return any of the collected samples, combined with the first two layers, it gives researchers valuable data about the debris that impacts the SDS while in orbit.
Image credits, video and content: iGoal Animation/NASA