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Space Debris Awareness In Aerospace Engineering Education

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Approaches to Emerging Topics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1143.1 - 11.1143.9

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Paper Authors

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Ron Madler Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott

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Phillip Anz-Meador Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott

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Karl Siebold Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Space Debris Awareness in Aerospace Engineering Education Abstract

The authors have taught many space related classes for different universities and distance learning programs at the NASA Johnson Space Center and at Embry Riddle’s Extended Campus (Houston) and its residential campus in Prescott, Arizona. The student clientele were aerospace professionals in Houston or full-time undergraduate students in Prescott. The topic of space debris was introduced in these classes and it was found that this field can serve as a very elaborate example pool for applied orbital mechanics, mission planning, spacecraft design (bus and payload), remote sensing and space surveillance, and classes in a traditional liberal arts curriculum such as history, policy, and law.

Projects like the analysis of satellite fragmentations, interactive web based flux directionality calculations, and the long term effects of perturbations on a satellite’s orbit are a few examples on how this important topic can be included in a university curriculum. Undergraduate students have been integrated into research projects in addition to the classes offered in a typical curriculum, with benefit both to students and faculty. Additionally, a university can serve as a repository of knowledge, which extends beyond the life of an industrial contractual relationship.

This paper presents methods on how to implement into an aerospace engineering or space physics curriculum the knowledge and foundation needed to understand space debris problems, and by extension many interdisciplinary problems and other areas of science and technology.

1. Astronautics Courses & Space Debris Education

The topic of space debris affects three of ERAU’s major programs in Prescott, AZ. These programs are Aerospace Engineering, Space Physics, and Global Security & Intelligence Studies. The interdisciplinary nature of space debris problems becomes evident if one assesses the level of understanding a student from the different programs can have and the contributions a student can make to solving various problems. By nature, a physics and engineering student share the same talents and expertise. However, there may be cases where the sensor requirements levied by the science payload (physics) poses an impossible engineering task. Engineers may design a spacecraft bus which yields the science payload unusable. Writing a well understood space policy requires a high level of understanding of the physics and engineering challenges. By training and experience, the authors possess several decades of relevant experience in the field of orbital debris and space environment studies. Rather than introduce students to orbital debris in a single, probably elective, course, our strategy has been to utilize orbital debris studies as one of several themes within the existing curriculum. The following table (Table 1.1) lists courses and topics where the authors have implemented space debris relevant materials in the curriculum. Section 3 describes a few examples which have been successfully adapted in a classroom setting. The importance in the following list of courses lies in the multitude of opportunities in which space debris problems can be presented. Table 1.1 shows also a list of space debris topics and their relationship with major courses taught, in one form or another, at any university or college supporting a space engineering or physics program. In Table 1.1 our

Madler, R., & Anz-Meador, P., & Siebold, K. (2006, June), Space Debris Awareness In Aerospace Engineering Education Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois.

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