Removing orbital debris with pulsed lasers

Claude R. Phipps, Kevin L. Baker, Stephen B. Libby, Duane A. Liedahl, Scot S. Olivier, Lyn D. Pleasance, Alexander Rubenchik, James E. Trebes, E. Victor George, Bogdan Marcovici, James P. Reilly, Michael T. Valley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

9 Scopus citations


Orbital debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) are now sufficiently dense that the use of LEO space is threatened by runaway collisional cascading. A problem predicted more than thirty years ago, the threat from debris larger than about 1cm demands serious attention. A promising proposed solution uses a high power pulsed laser system on the Earth to make plasma jets on the objects, slowing them slightly, and causing them to re-enter and burn up in the atmosphere. In this paper, we reassess this approach in light of recent advances in low-cost, light-weight segmented design for large mirrors, calculations of laser-induced orbit changes and in design of repetitive, multi-kilojoule lasers, that build on inertial fusion research. These advances now suggest that laser orbital debris removal (LODR) is the most costeffective way to mitigate the debris problem. No other solutions have been proposed that address the whole problem of large and small debris. A LODR system will have multiple uses beyond debris removal. International cooperation will be essential for building and operating such a system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAIP Conference Proceedings
Number of pages13
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
Event9th International Symposium on High Power Laser Ablation 2012, HPLA 2012 - Santa Fe, NM, United States
Duration: Apr 30 2012May 3 2012


Other9th International Symposium on High Power Laser Ablation 2012, HPLA 2012
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySanta Fe, NM


  • adaptive optics
  • impulse coupling
  • laser materials interaction
  • phase conjugation
  • segmented mirror design
  • space debris

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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