Collision frequency of artificial satellites: The creation of a debris belt
Article first published online: 20 SEP 2012
This paper is not subject to U.S. copyright. Published in 1978 by the American Geophysical Union.
Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics (1978–2012)
Volume 83, Issue A6, pages 2637–2646, 1 June 1978
How to Cite
1978), Collision frequency of artificial satellites: The creation of a debris belt, J. Geophys. Res., 83(A6), 2637–2646, doi:10.1029/JA083iA06p02637., and (
- Issue published online: 20 SEP 2012
- Article first published online: 20 SEP 2012
- Manuscript Accepted: 22 FEB 1978
- Manuscript Received: 7 NOV 1977
As the number of artificial satellites in earth orbit increases, the probability of collisions between satellites also increases. Satellite collisions would produce orbiting fragments, each of which would increase the probability of further collisions, leading to the growth of a belt of debris around the earth. This process parallels certain theories concerning the growth of the asteroid belt. The debris flux in such an earth-orbiting belt could exceed the natural meteoroid flux, affecting future spacecraft designs. A mathematical model was used to predict the rate at which such a belt might form. Under certain conditions the belt could begin to form within this century and could be a significant problem during the next century. The possibility that numerous unobserved fragments already exist from spacecraft explosions would decrease this time interval. However, early implementation of specialized launch constraints and operational procedures could significantly delay the formation of the belt.