A novel concept for the active removal of space debris using solar power is proposed. Focused solar ablation is an in-space propulsion concept based on using concentrator mirrors on nanosats and using the solar power to evaporate material from the debris to produce deceleration thrust thereby providing the ∆V necessary to deorbit. An energy balance is used along with free-molecular effusion theory to estimate the thrust produced by the concept and the corresponding deorbit times for an aluminum debris masses of 10 kg and 0.27 kg for various concentrator mirror areas and the diameter of the spot on which the solar power is concentrated. The analysis shows that the deorbit times of a few hours for both masses showing that the method is attractive for active space debris removal. Experiments performed using electron beams to evaporate aluminum in a vacuum chamber show that the method is also practically feasible to deorbit space debris using solar power available in low earth orbit (LEO).


This is the published version of A. Alexeenko and A. Venkattraman*. 2011. “Focused Solar Ablation: A Nanosat-Based Method for Active Removal of Space Debris”. First published as a 47th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit Paper and is available online at: http://arc.aiaa.org/doi/pdf/10.2514/6.2011-6143.

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