Simulation of Debris Events in Selected Low Lunar Orbits

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Simulations of spacecraft breakup events in low lunar orbit are conducted with the aim of determining the longevity of the resulting debris and the hazards it could pose. The trajectories of approximately 97,000 debris particles across eight Monte Carlo breakup simulations are propagated for 1 year using a high-precision lunar trajectory model. Debris was found to be especially long-lasting for breakups in circular polar orbits at 200 km altitude, in retrograde equatorial orbits at 100 km or higher, and in lunar frozen orbits. Analysis of the locations at which polar-orbiting debris tended to impact the Moon reveals a surprising asymmetry and significant accumulations in certain regions. Finally, estimates of the collision probability over 1 year to other notional spacecraft varied from 10−9 to 10−13, suggesting a low risk of collision, but a significant number of close approaches within 5 km were observed. The results of this study provide new insights into the overall behavior of debris in lunar orbit and improve understanding of the consequences of a debris event in this orbital environment.


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Funding note: Funding was provided by the Department of the Air Force.

This article was selected for inclusion in Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies (AMOS 2022)

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The Journal of the Astronautical Sciences