Experimental characterization and numerical modelling of space debris degradation during atmospheric re-entry.

Project Details


Space debris is predicted to increase drastically in the following decades. This increase of debris can trigger the so-called Kessler syndrome: a cascade effect in which the debris impacts with satellites producing more debris, to ultimately destroy many useful satellites and hinder access to space. It is important to tackle this issue before it becomes a real threat. A cost-effective way to
reduce space debris is to force its re-entry on Earth and full demise. During a re-entry, the high velocities of an in-orbit object will be transformed into heat by friction. The high gas temperatures (about 10000ºC) will lead to the decomposition of the object. However, a complete decomposition may not be guaranteed. For example, a pressure vessel from a Vega rocket of ESA of about 1diameter was found in India in 2016. This debris can be an important threat if it was to fall in an inhabited area.
The purpose of this project is to develop new models capable of predicting the demise of this particular type of space debris. The project is divided in four parts:
-Theoretical study and model development
-Experimental characterization in detailed thermal analysis at small scale (TGA/DSC) and material response characterization in plasma flows (Plasmatron).
-Detailed simulation of space debris demise using a thermal degradation code, PATO, developed in conjunction by NASA Ames and VKI.
-Uncertainty quantification and development of simplified models.
Short title or EU acronymFWO SB mandate
Effective start/end date1/01/1831/12/21

Flemish discipline codes

  • Astronomy and space sciences not elsewhere classified


  • space