Date of Award

Fall 2017

Access Restriction

Campus Access only Research Projects

Degree Name

Master of Science


Systems Engineering

School or College

Seaver College of Science and Engineering

First Advisor

Frederick Brown


Space or orbital debris are polluting the space environment and are a result of derelict satellites and rockets and the debris resulting from their explosions and collisions with one another. According to the ESA and NASA, there are more than 23,000 items in orbit that are bigger than 10 cm (4 inches) across, and hundreds of thousands of items between 1 cm and 10 cm (0.4 to 4 inches) across. Most debris is concentrated at an altitude of 500 miles {800km) in LEO, posing the highest risk.

In 2014, the ISS had to move three times to avoid collision with space debris. Debris travels on average at 25,000 km (15,600 miles) per hour, so even an object of small mass has the potential to cripple a satellite or punch a hole in the International Space Station (ISS). Being hit by a 'sugar-cube' of space debris is the equivalent of standing next to an exploding hand-grenade.

5cm or larger debris as 5cm is the lower limit of today's tracking capability and 5cm or larger has the ability to cause catastrophic damage. Studies have concluded that debris in LEO will grow over time due to collisions between large objects. Spent rocket upper stages and unused satellites can produce more fragments.

This project explores the various concepts and pursuits available today on tackling the space debris problem. The system proposed in this paper is a space-based laser system named SHARK. The mission will detect and remove debris classified as catastrophic to current and future missions. The emitted laser will vaporize a thin film of matter off the surface of debris. The resulting high-speed plasma would act like a rocket plume, nudging the debris downward to eventually burn up in Earth's atmosphere. The spacecraft will also have an onboard debris tracking and targeting system to work in conjunction with the laser.

RyanGomez_Systems_Presentation_2017.pdf (19084 kB)
Oral Presentation