Benefits and risks of using electrodynamic tethers to de-orbit spacecraft

Carmen Pardini, Toshiya Hanada, Paula H. Krisko

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

8 Citations (Scopus)


By using electrodynamic drag to greatly increase the orbital decay rate, an electrodynamic space tether can remove spent or dysfunctional spacecraft from low Earth orbit rapidly and safely. Moreover, the low mass requirements of such tether devices make them highly advantageous compared to conventional rocket-based de-orbit systems. However, a tether system is much more vulnerable to space debris impacts than a typical spacecraft and its design must prove to be safe to a certain confidence level before being adopted for potential applications. To assess the space debris related concerns, a new task (Action Item 19.1) on the "Potential Benefits and Risks of Using Electrodynamic Tethers for End-of-life De-orbit of LEO Spacecraft" was defined by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), in March 2001. Two tests were proposed to compute the fatal impact rate of meteoroids and orbital debris on space tethers in circular orbits, at different altitudes and inclinations, as a function of the tether diameter, and to assess the survival probability of an electrodynamic tether system during typical deorbiting missions. IADC members of three agencies, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), participated in the study and different computational approaches were specifically developed in the framework of this IADC task. This paper summarizes the content of the IADC AI 19.1 Final Report. In particular, it introduces the potential benefits and risks of using tethers in space, it describes the assumptions made in the study plan, it compares and discusses the results obtained by ASI, JAXA and NASA for the two tests proposed. Some general conclusions and recommendations are eventually highlighted as a result of a massive and intensive study.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAIAA 57th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2006
PublisherAmerican Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Inc.
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9781605600390
Publication statusPublished - 2006
EventAIAA 57th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2006 - Valencia, Spain
Duration: Oct 2 2006Oct 6 2006

Publication series

NameAIAA 57th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2006


OtherAIAA 57th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Aerospace Engineering


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