NASA Prepares for Potentially Damaging 2011 Meteor Shower
2010-06-17 0:00

By Leonard David | Space.com

NASA is assessing the risk to spacecraft posed by the upcoming 2011 Draconid meteor shower, a seven-hour storm of tiny space rocks that has the potential to ding major Earth-orbiting spacecraft like the crewed International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope.


The meteor shower risk assessment is actually more art than science, and there has been some variation in the projected intensity levels of the 2011 Draconids by meteoroid forecasters. But spacecraft operators are already being notified to weigh defensive steps.

Current meteor forecast models project a strong Draconid outburst, possibly a full-blown storm, on Oct. 8, 2011, according to William Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The Draconids do present some risk to spacecraft, Cooke confirmed. They could potentially become the next significant event in low-Earth orbit as far as meteoroids are concerned, he added.

Cooke and Danielle Moser of Stanley, Inc., also of Huntsville, presented their Draconid data at Meteoroids 2010 - an international conference on minor bodies in the solar system held May 24-28 in Breckenridge, Colo. The conference was sponsored in part by NorthWest Research Associates/CoRADivision, NASA, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research.

Less flashy, but risk exists

The yearly Draconids are not known for their bright meteor displays, Cooke said.

Predicted intensity rates for 2011 span an order of magnitude, he added, with maximum Zenithal Hourly Rate, or ZHR, ranging from a few tens to several hundred as viewed by a single observer.

A Marshall Space Flight Center Meteoroid Stream Model based on radar and optical observations of past Draconid showers suggests that the maximum rate will be several hundreds per hour.

So why the worry?

Cooke said that a significant fraction of spacecraft anomalies produced by shower meteoroids are caused by electrostatic discharges when meteoroid meets satellite.

And while no spacecraft electrical problems were reported during the strong Draconid outbursts of 1985 and 1998, he said that the lack of past anomalies should not be taken as carte blanche for satellite operators to ignore in 2011.

The chance of electrical anomalies is low, however, due to the Draconids slow speed, Cooke pointed out.

"We’re already working with NASA programs to deal with spacecraft risk," Cooke said. "I imagine when the word gets out there will be a Draconid outburst, I’ll get the usual calls from comsat companies as well as government space programs," he told SPACE.com.

Out on the limb

The International Space Station is heavily armored against orbital debris.

That being the case, "we don’t expect anything to go wrong there," Cooke said.

However, the Draconids will appear above the Earth’s limb making it a spectacular looking out-the-windows celestial show for the space station crew.

"I have no concerns about the space station. Even if the Draconids were a full-scale meteor storm I would be confident that the space station program would take the right steps to mitigate the risk," Cooke said.

The most radical step would be to reorient the space station, Cooke said.

"But frankly, given the flux levels, I don’t think they are going to have to do that," he added. "But that’s their call. I’ll give then the flux levels and they’ll make the decision."

One measure that space station officials could take, he added, is not to perform spacewalks during the shower.

For the Hubble Space Telescope, if its operators deem the risk high enough, they will point the observatory away from the Draconid radiant – the point from which the shower appears to emanate.

"Any time you take a mitigation strategy, like changing a spacecraft’s attitude or turning off high-voltage, that incurs risk as well," Cooke said.

Caution is key

Each spacecraft is unique, and components have differing damage thresholds, so programs are encouraged to conduct analyses to determine whether or not mitigation strategies are necessary for their vehicles ahead of next year’s Draconids.

Cooke said that the spacecraft threat from meteor showers in the past – particularly the 1998 Leonids – produced more hype than hypervelocity impacts.

"We really didn’t understand what was going on," he added. "Now we have a much better feel. But the Leonids did sensitize spacecraft operators to worry about meteor showers. Perhaps, sometimes, they worry more than they should."

In early 2011, Cooke said that he’ll be revising his Draconid prediction – also making use of data from other forecasters around the globe – which will be released to spacecraft operators.

"There’s also an awful lot of windage in there too," Cooke added. "We’re like the weather reporters...our forecast changes...and the general trend is always downward," Cooke said.

Still, caution is the watchword.

"Because we can now forecast them, we have a way of putting it. If you are hit by a sporadic [meteor], it’s an act of God. If you are hit by a shower meteoroid, it’s an act of negligence," Cooke said.

Article from: Space.com



Related Articles
Images - The Best of Leonid Meteor Shower
Some of the Worst Space Debris Moments in History
NASA Wants You ... to Help Find Meteorites
NASA on crusade to debunk 2012 apocalypse myths
NASA’s LCROSS ’plume’ a no-show
"Meteorite" burns on Israel beach?
Meteorite Hits Mexico Leaving 30 Meter Crater in Ahuazotepec Municipality
Possible Perseid Meteor Outburst - August 12th


Latest News from our Front Page

The Viking ”Maine Penny” Mystery
2015-03-05 3:41
In 1957, during his second year of digging at the Goddard site; a large prehistoric Indian trade village in Penobscot Bay on the central Maine coast, local resident and amateur archaeologist Guy Mellgren found a small silver coin. The coin is later identified by experts as a Norse silver penny dating to the reign of Olaf Kyrre, king of Norway ...
The Sagas of the (Viking) Icelanders Shed Light on Golden Age
2015-03-05 3:40
The Sagas of the Icelanders have long been preserved as the most comprehensive specimen of the literary culture of the 13th and 14th centuries of Iceland. In writing these sagas, many attributes of the 10th and 11th centuries were conserved, particularly individual biographies, the history of family feuds, and the overall evolution of the one of the greatest settlements ...
Benjamin Netanyahu's Full Speech to Congress
2015-03-05 1:36
Here is the full speech of Pathological Zionist Liar Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States Congress. "And the Oscar goes too ...." Description from YouTube: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel used one of the most prominent platforms in the world on Tuesday to warn against what he called a “bad deal” being negotiated with Iran to freeze its nuclear program, bringing ...
The FDA Admits That Prior to 2011 Over 70% of U.S. Chickens Contained Cancer-Causing Arsenic
2015-03-04 20:32
Prior to 2011, the cancer-causing toxic chemical Roxarsone, which in high doses could kill you, was being added to chicken feed on purpose, giving store-bought chicken the illusion of healthy coloring and plump appearance. Shockingly, this was the case with more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens! A recent article was published stating that this continued to be the ...
The Truth About Starbucks New Coconut Milk: It Isn’t Really Coconut Milk
2015-03-03 22:14
In an attempt to appeal to the non-dairy crowd, Starbucks is bringing “coconut milk” to the masses. After a successful trial run in select cities at the behest of their customers, Starbucks has decided to push forward with their dairy alternative. Providing a non-dairy alternative to dairy and soy is the second most requested customer idea of all time from MyStarbucksIdea.com, ...
More News »