Using Modified Ballistic Limit Equations in Spacecraft Risk Assessments


The fundamental components of any meteoroid/orbital debris (MOD) risk assessment calculation are environment models, damage response predictor equations, and failure criteria. In the case of a spacecraft operating in low earth orbit, the response predictor equation typically takes the form of a ballistic limit equation (BLE) that defines the threshold particle sizes that cause failure of a spacecraft wall or component. Spacecraft risk assessments often call for BLEs for spacecraft components that do not exist. In such cases, it is a common procedure to use an existing BLE after first equivalencing the actual materials and/or wall thicknesses to the materials that were used in the development of the existing BLE. The question naturally arises regarding how close are the predictions of such an 'adapted BLE' to the response characteristics of the actual materials/wall configurations under high speed projectile impacts. This paper presents the results of a study that compared the predictions of a commonly used BLE when adapted to the Soyuz OM wall configuration against those of a new BLE that was developed specifically for that Soyuz wall configuration. It was found that the critical projectile diameters predicted by the new Soyuz OM wall BLE can exceed those predicted by the adapted use of the existing BLE by as much as 50% of the existing BLE values. Thus, using the adapted version of the existing BLE in this particular case would contribute to a more conservative value of assessed risk. If the same trends were to hold true for other spacecraft wall configurations, then it is also possible that using existing BLEs, even after they have been adjusted for differences in materials, etc., may result in predictions of smaller critical diameters (i.e., increased assessed risk) than would using BLEs purposely developed for actual spacecraft configurations of interest.


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Ballistics; Damage detection; Debris; Forecasting; Orbits; Projectiles; Space debris; Spacecraft; Ballistic limit equations; Fundamental component; High-speed projectiles; Hypervelocity impacts; Orbital debris; Response characteristic; Spacecraft components; Spacecraft configurations; Risk assessment

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