Spacecraft Passivation - an overview of Requirements, Principles, and Practices as Applied to Spacecraft Pressure Vessels


Explosions, collisions, and other catastrophic breakups of launch vehicle orbital stages and satellites continue to be major contributors to the generation of orbital debris. Both launch vehicles and payload satellites typically have several types of stored energy sources on board, any of which might result in energetic breakups and the creation of debris after their mission has ended. These energy sources include propulsion systems, pressure vessels, reaction wheels, control moment gyros, heat pipes, and power systems. NASA, ESA, JAXA and other space-faring organizations have requirements in place to limit the growth of the orbital debris population by passivating space vehicles that remain in orbit after their missions have ended. In this paper, we review current spacecraft passivation philosophies and principles, as well as how those principles have been applied in practice. In particular, we focus on how NASA programs have addressed spacecraft passivation. We begin by considering and reviewing general passivation requirements, with specific emphasis on pressure vessel passivation. We then discuss passivation approaches used in several recent NASA missions as well as some practical considerations in spacecraft passivation, and conclude by providing some summary guidelines regarding what may be considered acceptable (reduced) pressure level targets (depending on the tank commodity and the type of propulsion system) that could allow the pressure vessel to be considered in a passivated state.


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering


This work was supported by the NASA Engineering and Safety Center.

Keywords and Phrases

Orbital Debris; Pressure Vessels; Spacecraft Passivation; Stored Energy

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


File Type





© 2022 Elsevier, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2022