Ariane 5 GTO debris mitigation using natural perturbations

Aleix Pinardell Pons, Ron Noomen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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GTO objects can potentially collide with operative satellites in LEO and GEO protected regions. Internationally accepted debris mitigation guidelines require that these objects exit these protected regions within 25 years, e.g. by re-entering and burning up in Earth's atmosphere. In this paper, an inventory of the GTO debris generated from Ariane 5 launches in the period 2012–2017 is provided, and it is expected that none of these objects will re-enter within 25 years. For future launches, natural perturbations can be exploited to increase compliance with mitigation guidelines without the use of extra propellant or complex de-orbiting systems, which is attractive from an economic point of view. The lifetime of GTO objects is very sensitive to initial conditions and some environmental and body-related parameters, mainly due to the effect of solar gravity on the perigee altitude. As a consequence, the lifetime of a specific GTO object cannot be predicted accurately, but its probability of re-entering in less than 25 years can be estimated with proper accuracy by following a statistical approach. By propagating the orbits of over 800,000 simulated Ariane 5 GTO objects, it was found that the launch time leading to the highest probability of compliance with debris mitigation guidelines for GEO launches from Kourou corresponds to about 2 PM local time, regardless of the date of launch, which leads to compliance rates ranging from 60 to 100%. Current practice is to launch at around 5–9 PM, so a change in procedures would be required in order to reach a higher degree of compliance with debris mitigation guidelines, which was predicted to be on average below 20% for the objects generated in the period 2012–2017.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1992-2002
Number of pages11
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • Ariane 5
  • Debris mitigation
  • Geostationary transfer orbit
  • Orbital perturbations
  • Space debris

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