A REVIEW OF HYPERVELOCITY DEBRIS TESTING AT
THE AIR FORCE RESEARCH LABORATORY
, ROBERT ROYBAL, PAWEL TLOMAK and WARREN WILSON
Air Force Research Laboratory, 3550 Aberdeen Avenue, Kirtland Air Force Base,
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87117, USA (Tel.: 505 846 4822; Fax: 505 846 6689;
(Received 19 November 2002; Accepted 5 February 2004)
Abstract. In this paper, we describe a compact, low cost, fast turn-around-time technique used at the Air Force
Research Laboratory to study hypervelocity debris impact effects on spacecraft structures and components.
The technique described was used to study debris effects in the areas of: shock physics, debris-produced
contamination, chemical analyses of the impact ejecta and debris initiated spacecraft discharge. Examples of
research results obtained with the technique are presented and illustrate problems encountered in the ﬁeld of
space debris effects on spacecraft.
Keywords: chemistry of ejecta, contamination, debris-produced spacecraft charging, hypervelocity debris
simulation, shock damage
Spacecraft placed in the low earth orbit (LEO) are exposed to a variety of natural occur-
ring environmental components, including: atomic oxygen; charged particles; radiation;
and a large ﬂux of hypervelocity debris particles from both natural and man generated
sources. Extensive research has been conducted in space and in laboratories to determine
what effects debris particles, traveling with velocities of ∼10 km/s, have on the properties
of spacecraft materials. In this paper, we will review some preliminary experimental work
on debris-produced phenomena including: structural damage; shock; shock induced precip-
itation in metal alloys; contamination; chemistry of debris-produced ejecta and spacecraft
The amount of debris damage experienced by space based assets in LEO from hyperve-
locity impacts can be extensive and can decrease the performance of subsystems below their
critical speciﬁcations (Catani, 2001). The ﬂux of debris particles in LEO, which includes
man made particles such as, paint chips, efﬂuentfrom maneuveringrocket motors, secondary
debris ejecta, etc., depends on the altitude, the inclination of the orbit and the orientation of
the surface to the ram direction. The particle ﬂux can be as low as, ∼1 hit/m
for 1 cm size pieces, to between 10 and 100 hits/m
/year for particles of about 0.1 mm, for a
circular orbit at an altitude of 500 km (Kessler et al., 1988). Both the meteoroid and debris
ﬂux increase with altitude (James et al., 1994), with the current models indicating a decrease
in ﬂux levels at altitudes above 1000 km.
Space Debris 2, 331–356, 2000.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.