NASA and SpaceX are studying ways to mitigate Dragon’s trunk debris

WASHINGTON — NASA and SpaceX are considering how to change the Dragon spacecraft’s re-entry process to limit the amount of debris from the spacecraft’s trunk section that reaches Earth.

In some cases, debris from parts of the Dragon spacecraft’s trunk, which are ejected from the capsule before the capsule performs a deorbit burn, have been found on the ground. They include debris from the trunk of the Crew-1 Crew Dragon, found in Australia in 2022; the Ax-3 Crew Dragon, which landed in Saskatchewan in February; and the Crew-7 trunk, fragments of which were found in May in North Carolina.

In August 2022, shortly after Crew-1 debris was found in Australia, a SpaceX official downplayed the incident as an isolated case. “This was all within the expected analyzed space of what could happen,” Benji Reed, senior director of human flight programs at SpaceX, said at a NASA briefing. “However, as we do for launches and every return, we look closely at the data, learn everything we can and are always looking for ways we can make things better.”

After the latest debris footage, NASA and SpaceX now admit that improvements are needed. The agency recently stated that initial studies expected the log to burn up completely upon re-entry. “NASA and SpaceX will continue to explore additional solutions as we learn from the debris discovered,” NASA said.

“We’ve done analysis before Demo-2, and it’s clear that the models don’t handle the baggage very well,” Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, said in an interview after a Starliner briefing before that launch. mission on June 6. He said it was likely due to the composite materials used in the luggage. “It’s almost like a thermal protection system.”

The solution he said NASA and SpaceX are looking at involves changing deorbit procedures. Currently, the trunk is released before the capsule completes its orbital burn. This means that the trunk can remain in orbit for months before making an uncontrolled re-entry.

Instead, Stich said engineers are considering doing a deorbit burn and then releasing the trunk. This would provide more control over where the log is re-entered, ensuring that any debris that survives re-entry lands in unpopulated regions.

“We are in the process of doing that work now,” he said. “I would like to have something next year if we can, but we have to do all the proper analysis. We have to make sure it’s safe for the crew.”

The challenges of this alternative approach include using an extra propellant to do the deorbit burn while the log is still attached and then figuring out how best to separate the log after the burn. Stich said engineers are looking at several ways to do this that would result in further lowering of the log from the reentry capsule so that any debris would land in the ocean.

Concerns about the dangers of falling debris have been raised not only by the trunks of Dragon, but also by part of an ISS battery rack that performed an uncontrolled reentry on March 8. A portion of that rack, weighing nearly three-quarters of a kilogram, survived re-entry and struck a home in Naples, Florida. Debris fell on the roof of the house, but did not cause injuries.

On June 21, law firm Cranfill Sumner LLP announced that it filed a claim with NASA for approximately $80,000 in damages caused by the debris. The filing, misreported by some media outlets as a lawsuit, is instead a claim under the Federal Evidence Claims Act, which gives NASA six months to respond to the request.

Mica Nguyen Worthy, the lawyer who filed the claim on behalf of the family whose home was damaged, noted that under a space treaty known as the Liability Convention, the United States would be “absolutely responsible” for the damage if the debris were to they had hit another country. but the same liability absolutely does not apply here because the damage occurred in the United States.

“Here, the US government, through NASA, has an opportunity to set the standard or ‘set a precedent’ for what responsible, safe and sustainable space operations should look like,” she said in the statement. Paying the claim, she concluded, “would send a strong signal to both other governments and private industries that such victims should be compensated regardless of fault.”

Others see opportunity in falling debris. The remains of Crew-7’s luggage landed at a luxury campsite called The Glamping Collective, which exhibited its photos. “We invite you to come experience this for yourself!” said on its website, noting that the debris will appear at the start of a hiking trail.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top