Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Hanspeter Schaub

Second Advisor

Brandon Jones

Third Advisor

Jeffrey Parker

Fourth Advisor

Juan Restrepo

Fifth Advisor

Darren McKnight


The geosynchronous orbit (GEO) is a unique commodity of the satellite industry that is becoming increasingly contaminated with orbital debris, but is heavily populated with high-value assets from the civil, commercial, and defense sectors. The GEO arena is home to hundreds of communications, data transmission, and intelligence satellites collectively insured for an estimated 18.3 billion USD. As the lack of natural cleansing mechanisms at the GEO altitude renders the lifetimes of GEO debris essentially infinite, conjunction and risk assessment must be performed to safeguard operational assets from debris collisions. In this thesis, longitude-dependent debris congestion is characterized by predicting the number of near-miss events per day for every longitude slot at GEO, using custom debris propagation tools and a torus intersection metric. Near-miss events with the present-day debris population are assigned risk levels based on GEO-relative position and speed, and this risk information is used to prioritize the population for debris removal target selection. Long-term projections of debris growth under nominal launch traffic, mitigation practices, and fragmentation events are also discussed, and latitudinal synchronization of the GEO debris population is explained via node variations arising from luni-solar gravity. In addition to characterizing localized debris congestion in the GEO ring, this thesis further investigates the conjunction risk to operational satellites or debris removal systems applying low-thrust propulsion to raise orbit altitude at end-of-life to a super-synchronous disposal orbit. Conjunction risks as a function of thrust level, miss distance, longitude, and semi-major axis are evaluated, and a guidance method for evading conjuncting debris with continuous thrust by means of a thrust heading change via single-shooting is developed.