Protecting the International Space Station and Other Satellites from Supersonic Space Dust
Impact from micrometeoroids - tiny pieces of rock or other material may sound harmless here on Earth, but to the International Space Station (ISS), and satellites orbiting in space, when traveling at speeds of at least 13,000 mph (21,000km/h) even the smallest piece of rock poses a threat. Ultra high speed photography has been fundamental in capturing laboratory based simulations of these impacts and their effect on different protective materials.
Large debris in space can be tracked and avoided but, there is no way to track the many tiny pieces of natural and artificial debris, so any space station or satellite going into orbit requires protective shielding from them. Micrometeroid and orbital debris (MMOD) impacts occur all the time on the ISS, other spacecraft and when in service the space shuttle showed pock marks from high velocity MMODs
Professor John Spray, director of the Planetary and Space Science Centre at the University of New Brunswick, carries out unique research focussing on high-speed impacts and their effect on life, structures and planetary bodies.
“Satellites have been taken out by orbital debris, one tiny piece no bigger than a frozen pea can take one out. So, you have to design ways of defeating that.”
Professor John Spray, director of the Planetary and Space Science Centre at the University of New Brunswick
Using a two-stage light gas gun, to accelerate projectiles to very high velocities the team at the University of New Brunswick fired 25mm diameter cylinders at velocities around 6km/s into different materials and shielding configurations in the pursuit of optimum solutions. This testing was to develop protective shielding against debris and small meteorites on the International Space Station and satellites on behalf of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
As part of this project the University purchased a SIMX16, which was initially configured to capture at 1Mfps (frames/second) with a very short exposure time of 15 nanoseconds. Whilst 1Mfps is not fast or challenging in photographic terms, the necessary camera features of high image resolution, variable light gain and very short exposure times to capture detailed images was exactly the performance our SIMX camera was able to deliver - as can be seen from these images. Ultimately, the research carried out by Professor Spray using a Specialised Imaging ultra high-speed framing camera will improve the protection of satellites and the lives of those boldly going into orbit and beyond.