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The Catcher’s Mitt study was conducted to evaluate the need for, and the technical feasibility of, reducing the amount of orbital debris via active removal. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with support from the Orbital Debris Office at NASA reached out to the aerospace community through a U.S. Government roundtable series, a Request for Information (RFI), and an international conference in order to explore the full range of possible solutions. These concepts were evaluated by a team of experts in the field and condensed into a set of practical options to be considered for a new DARPA program.

Although there are many policy issues which need to be addressed related to orbital debris removal, the Cather’s Mitt study focused on the technical challenges of the problem. A variety of potential methods were examined for addressing the problem of orbital debris, and active debris removal was found to be required at some point to maintain an acceptable level of operational risk. Although projections show that it may take decades for the risk to become unbearable, this report outlines several reasons to begin development of a solution today.

A central finding of this study is that the development of debris removal solutions should concentrate on pre-emptive removal of large debris in both Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO). Although the greatest threat to operational spacecraft stems from medium debris (defined as 5 mm – 10 cm), no reasonable solution was found to effectively remove this size of debris object. Compliance with existing international debris mitigation guidelines coupled with the pre-emptive removal of the sources of future medium debris, is by far the most cost-effective strategy. For the LEO region, NASA has suggested that annually removing 5 to 10 of the largest objects with the greatest risk of collision could stabilize the current medium sized debris population when combined with improved postmission spacecraft disposal rates.

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