Mission Overview

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MEO Overview

Image Credit: NASA

The objective of the MEO is to understand the flux and the associated risk of meteoroids impacting spacecraft traveling in and beyond Earth’s orbit. Meteoroids impacting spacecraft are a quantifiable risk as they can puncture pressurized volumes (i.e. space station modules, propellant tanks) or destroy components (i.e. engines, electronics). While meteoroids have never been definitively proven to have destroyed a spacecraft, there have been several in-flight anomalies attributed to meteoroid impacts including loss of the Olympus satellite to control system failure induced by a Perseid shower meteor impact. Understanding the meteoroid environment can help spacecraft designers to better protect critical components on spacecraft or avoid critical operations such as extravehicular activities during periods of higher flux such as meteor showers.

The primary functions of the MEO are as follows:
  • Lead NASA technical work on the meteoroid environment; coordinate the existing meteoroid expertise at NASA centers.
  • Provide design, operational determination, and review assistance for NASA Programs/projects with respect to risk mitigation.
  • Develop, maintain, and distribute a new and more accurate sporadic meteoroid model.
  • Provide meteor shower forecasts to NASA spacecraft operators.
  • Conduct and manage research to improve sporadic and shower meteoroid models in government and academia, including validation and uncertainty determination which are required inputs to Probabilistic Risk Assessments.
  • Develop/determine meteoroid environment fluxes for Earth orbital and lunar regions.


Columbia Accident Investigation Board report, volume I

Micrometeoroids and space debris… are among the most serious risk factors in Shuttle missions.

Finding: The Board found markedly different criteria for margins of micrometeoroid and orbit debris safety between the International Space Station and Shuttle.

Recommendation: Require the Space Shuttle to be operated with the same degree of safety for micrometeoroid and orbital debris as the degree of safety calculated for the International Space Station. Change the micrometeoroid and orbital debris safety criteria from guidelines to requirements.

Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) report

Observation 14: The meteoroid model currently used for Space Shuttle (Thermal Protection System (TPS)) risk analysis (SSP 30425) lacks a material distribution, includes no uncertainty bounds, has known flaws, and has no NASA entity designated for updating the model. Because meteoroids contribute approximately half of the total Meteoroid/Orbital Debris (M/OD) risk to the potential loss of the Space Shuttle, this model should receive an immediate technical review and update. It should include the effect of meteoroid sporadics and showers. In the end, one meteoroid model should be established, agency-wide, for use in all space programs.

NASA Engineering Safety Center/Independent Technical Authority (NESC/ITA) report on BUMPER II

Finding: The current velocity distribution is inadequate for BUMPER II purposes and may cause errors in the probability of penetration of over a factor of 2.

Recommendation: The meteoroid velocity distribution in BUMPER II should be updated with a more current model...

NASA should take immediate steps to replace the current micrometeoroid environment used in BUMPER II with a new model that more accurately represents the micrometeoroid velocity distribution...