Small Company Tackles Big Problem of Space Debris—Decades into the Future—with High Performance Computing

Aerospace engineering firm, a.i. solutions, conducts routine conjunction assessment for 24 NASA satellites, including NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC) Earth Science Constellation (ESC). The Chinese anti-satellite test (ASAT) in early 2007 generated a massive amount of space debris in orbits similar to ESC missions. “Within 30 days of the ASAT test, every member of the ESC had debris from the destroyed satellite approach within 25 kilometers,” says David McKinley, an a.i. solutions project engineer for GSFC’s Conjunction Assessment Team. By June 2007, the first ESC risk mitigation maneuver as a direct result of the Chinese debris was performed by the Terra spacecraft, confirming that the Fengyun-1C break-up was having significant operational impacts on the ESC member missions.

Now, nearly two years later, the debris has not decayed significantly, accounting for nearly 15% of all conjunctions in the ESC, says McKinley. NASA wanted to assess the long-term operational impacts to ESC missions—over the next twenty years or even 100 years into the future. Such long-term intensive analyses meant creating high fidelity orbit propagations of the several thousand pieces of debris for decades into the future—a huge analysis problem requiring enormous amounts of computing power and months to complete. GSFC wanted results sooner.

a.i. solutions configured its commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) FreeFlyer ® to perform in a clustered, high performance computing (HPC) environment. Using Microsoft ® Windows ® HPC solutions, FreeFlyer and 10 clustered computers; the 20-year analysis was completed in less than 3 days. The end result shows that the Fengyun debris continues to remain a threat to the ESC member missions in the near future. In fact, the number of conjunction threats the ESC missions experience is predicted to triple by the year 2027. Further analysis shows that even after 100 years, over 20% of the ASAT debris could still be in orbit. a.i. solutions has several white papers on the analysis available for download from their website.

About a.i. solutions

Founded in 1996, a.i. solutions is a small business leader in providing mission-critical products and services to NASA, NOAA, MDA, and the US Air Force. a.i. solutions has supported the design and development of over 200 space missions and are the creators of the commercial space mission and analysis software FreeFlyer®.

For additional information, please contact Caroline Noonan at 301-306-1756, ext. 144, or visit .