MEO Releases New Technical Manual Detailing Meteoroid Environments

MEO Releases New Technical Manual Detailing Meteoroid Environments

2-minute read
Meteor Shower

The Office of Safety and Mission Assurance’s Meteoroid Environment Office (MEO) recently released “A Meteoroid Handbook for Aerospace Engineers and Managers” (NASA/TM-2019-220142) to help educate programs across the agency about the environments their spacecraft could encounter during their missions and, in turn, help programs protect their spacecraft from potentially damaging threats.

“A lot of managers aren’t familiar with meteoroids,” said Bill Cooke, Meteoroid Environment program manager. “MEO prepared a handbook that will give program managers a broad overview of meteoroid environments. We are hoping this handbook will correct some misconceptions with some basic definitions — meteors versus meteoroids, explaining the difference between sporadic meteors and shower meteors. This will help them understand how to best use our models.”

For example, a corrected misconception in the handbook focuses on when meteoroid strikes occur: “Another common misconception is that meteoroids strike spacecraft only during or primarily during meteor showers. At least two guide documents imply that meteoroid risk is confined to meteor showers (Bedingfield et al. 1996; National Research Council 2011). However, the opposite is true: sporadic meteoroids, which can strike spacecraft at any time of year, produce at least 90% of meteoroid strikes (Moorhead et al. 2017).”

The new handbook ensures that programs have the latest information with regards to meteoroids. Before its release, a lot of the information available was decades old.

“This gives people a modern document on the meteoroid environment, and people have been looking for that,” explained Althea Moorhead, aerospace technologist for planetary studies. “Before, you’d find 50-year-old documents. It will give people something much more up-to-date that covers everything from observations to models to impacts in one document.”

With NASA’s current goal to land American astronauts — including the first woman and next man — on the Moon by 2024, the information in this guide is especially pertinent. Projects like Gateway will be operating within the meteoroid environment, and programs supporting them need to fully understand the risks to the spacecraft that result.

“We’re going back to the Moon and that’s purely a meteoroid environment with no Orbital Debris, but managers don’t necessarily understand that,” said Cooke. “The handbook will help them begin to understand the risks to their spacecraft. It’s especially important for people starting out and starting spacecraft design.”

While the handbook will help programs design and build spacecraft better suited for the environments they will encounter, Cooke points out that it can also help programs whose spacecraft are already operational troubleshoot what occurred if they experience any sort of malfunction by detailing the risks associated with various environments.

“I would recommend anyone that is going to venture outside Low-Earth orbit read the handbook,” said Cooke.

Specifically, Cooke and Moorhead point program managers to Chapter 3, Meteoroid Environment and Chapter 4, Spacecraft Effects.

“I think those two are going to be very useful because they tell you the descriptions of what you’re up against — what the meteoroid environment is — and also what it can do to your spacecraft,” said Moorhead.

Questions about NASA/TM-2019-220142 can be directed to Cooke or Moorhead.