The DebriSat, a non-functional, full-scale representation of a modern satellite, is shown in a target tank. Spacecraft was purposely destroyed to gather new data on the effects of collisions between satellites and human-made space clutter. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Jacqueline Cowan

The DebriSat, a non-functional, full-scale representation of a modern satellite, is shown in a target tank. Spacecraft was purposely destroyed to gather new data on the effects of collisions between satellites and human-made space clutter.
Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Jacqueline Cowan

A modern satellite was on the receiving end of a hypervelocity destructive impact – not in space, but here on Earth. The experiment was designed to help scientists better understand the effects of space collisions.

The spacecraft was destroyed at an Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) in Tennessee. This appraisal teamed involved NASA, the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, the University of Florida and the Aerospace Corporation.

The spacecraft – dubbed “DebriSat” — was designed and fabricated by the University of Florida and supplied to AEDC for purposeful destruction. DebriSat was a non-functional, full-scale representation of a modern satellite.

Target tank

DebriSat was mounted within a “target tank” with a Range G light gas launcher capable of firing projectiles over one pound at speeds of more than 15,500 miles per hour.

The Range G launcher fires into a sealed test chamber that can be conditioned to simulate the low pressure environment of outer space. Destroying the satellite inside the chamber also allows the debris to be easily recovered for analysis.

That launcher gives a projectile enough kinetic oomph to cause the catastrophic destruction of the test satellite.

“We were well above the necessary impact energy to have a catastrophic destruction of the DebriSat, which resulted in a very successful test,” said J.C. Liou from the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Soft-catch

In addition to the DebriSat, AEDC Range G also helped the Department of Defense, NASA and the Aerospace Corporation perform hypervelocity impact experiments involving an upper stage of a launch vehicle dubbed “DebrisLV” and a spacecraft protection device commonly called a Whipple Shield.

David Woods, Range G installation engineer, noted the characteristics of the shooting gallery that is the target tank:

“Inside the chamber we line the walls with foam to stop the debris fragments from impacting the sides of the tank,” said Woods in an AEDC press statement.

“We call this debris recovery method ‘soft-catch’ since it prevents the debris from being further damaged by impacting the walls of the test chamber,” Woods said.

The DebriSat test results are meant to eliminate discrepancies in the breakup models of older spacecraft contrasted to present-day designs of satellites.

Data from the recent tests are expected to be of great benefit to specialists focused on the menacing issue of understanding and dealing with Earth orbiting debris.

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