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Tap into the experiences of NASA’s technical workforce as they develop missions to explore distant worlds—from the Moon to Mars, from Titan to Psyche. Learn how they advance technology to make aviation on Earth faster, quieter and more fuel efficient. Each biweekly episode celebrates program and project managers, engineers, scientists and thought leaders working on multiple fronts to advance aeronautics and space exploration in a bold new era of discovery. New episodes are released bi-weekly on Wednesdays. 

A new NASA report titled “Cost and Benefit Analysis of Mitigating, Tracking, and Remediating Orbital Debris” compares the cost-effectiveness of several strategies that could reduce the risk of collisions between spacecraft, including the space station, and orbital debris. 

As more science missions and satellites get launched into space, the neighborhood around Earth becomes more crowded with debris, posing a risk to flight safety. How can NASA and its partners ensure space is safe and usable for future generations?

In this episode, you’ll learn about 

  • Potential cost-effective strategies for dealing with orbital debris 
  • Existing technology for tracking and remediating orbital debris 
  • How project managers can incorporate orbital debris mitigation into mission design


Phase I Report: Cost and Benefit Analysis of Orbital Debris Remediation

Phase II Report: Cost and Benefit Analysis of Mitigating, Tracking, and Remediating Orbital Debris

Critical Knowledge InSight: Mitigation of Micrometeoroids and Orbital Debris Risk

Human Spaceflight Knowledge Sharing: Micrometeoroids and Orbital Debris

NASA Orbital Debris Program Office

Space Sustainability Strategy

Related Courses

Risk Management – APPEL vRM I 

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving – APPEL vCTPS 

Human Spaceflight and Mission Design – APPEL-vHSMD


Jericho Locke is a program analyst in NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy at NASA Headquarters in Washington. He combines experience in engineering, programming, and policy to conduct technical studies for NASA leadership, and other parts of the federal government prior to joining the agency. Jericho holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics from Lipscomb University.


Andrés Almeida (Host): Welcome to Small Steps, Giant Leaps, the NASA APPEL Knowledge Services podcast. I’m your host, Andrés Almeida. In each episode, we focus on the role NASA’s technical workforce plays in advancing the agency’s mission through the development and sharing of knowledge.

Orbital debris. It’s defined as any human-made object in orbit around Earth that no longer serves any useful purpose. It can be as large as pieces of old spacecraft or as small as flecks of paint. Why does this matter? 

According to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office at Johnson Space Center in Houston, approximately 500,000 marble-sized debris objects are predicted to be in Earth’s orbit. Over 100 million objects of 1 millimeter or smaller are estimated to exist. Even at that size, debris can be harmful to spacecraft because of how fast these objects travel. So how can NASA and its partners keep low Earth orbit safe and usable for future generations?  

A new NASA report titled Cost and Benefit Analysis of Mitigating, Tracking, and Remediating Orbital Debris compares the cost-effectiveness of several strategies that could be used to reduce the risk of collisions between satellites, including the space station, and orbital debris. The report is a follow-up to a study that was published in 2023. 

Joining us to talk about the report’s findings is lead author Jericho Locke, a management and program analyst in NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy, or OTPS.
Jericho, thank you for being with us today. 

Locke: Thanks for having me, Andrés. 

Host: How is this report different from the phase one study? 

Locke: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I think if I could, it’d be easiest to start by why phase one study existed and then kind of move why we moved forward with what we’re calling phase two here. So, the most recent, latest and greatest version of the report. So orbital debris is not a new problem. It’s been researched for decades, including NASA, NASA has been a leader in orbital debris research, understanding what will debris trying to prevent its creation and its effects for since as early as the, you know, first satellites in space, especially the 1970s. A lot of that research has been focused on what I’ll categorize as the long-term impacts of debris. So, it’s considering over decades, even centuries: How will the debris population grow? And what can we do to prevent that long term growth? So a common question will be, “Over the next 200 years, what will some action have an effect on the number of debris that exist?” 

And that’s a really profound question. We want to make sure that we control the population of debris, avoid something that’s hypothesized as Kessler Syndrome, which is the uncontrollable growth debris, that basically the idea is that you can get so many pieces of space junk up there, they’ll keep colliding with each other and generating more and more debris, even if we do nothing about it. But the long-term perspective has some limitations. For example, say you have a question if there was some philanthropic organization out there that wanted to pay to remove some debris, how much should they pay for that? What is it worth to the debris environment?

And what would the most effective method they could use to accomplish removing debris be? Those are the types of questions that the long-term perspective aren’t necessarily equipped to handle. They can’t necessarily put dollar value on what these things are worth. Nor can they really compare across multiple methods. 

And so that’s where phase one of the report came in, is asking specifically in dollars, what are the benefits and costs of these different things we could do to clean up debris specifically, or what we like to call remediation. So it’s not just removing it, it’s also recycling it, doing things to take it away from being a risk. And so phase one looked at a bunch of different methods of remediating space debris and found some are more effective than others. But in general, there could be positive benefits, or greater benefits than costs, even in the short term over the next 10, 20, 30 years, which is a remarkable finding, right? It’s saying that the debris problem is significant enough that we if we do something now or even removed debris, it’s worth it, essentially. It’s something new, something we added, we think, to the greater conversation. 

What we missed in phase one, or what we wanted to move on from there was still being able to answer those kinds of questions that I posed earlier. Part of answering the question is debris remediation is one among many actions that you can take to reduce the risks from debris. There’s other classes of actions.  

Specifically, what we looked at in this new report are you can also mitigate the creation of debris, so stop creating it in the first place, whereas remediation focuses on cleaning up what’s already up there. And you can also track what’s up there so then you can avoid it so you can move away from it and not let it hit you. So we wanted to expand our scope to include all of the classes of different types of things you could do about debris, so that we can under trade amongst them all but also better understand where remediation falls amongst mitigation and tracking. 

We also wanted to continue to improve our methodology, continue to improve our methods for calculating During the benefits of debris, and that included a lot of changes that enabled us to make the comparisons I was just talking about, but like, including potential explosions of spacecraft, or the natural decay of debris over time, it will eventually fall down out of the atmosphere, also, including debris as small as one millimeter and other changes that helped us get closer to the truth of what’s actually going on in the environment and what we can do about it. 

Host: And we will link both reports in our episode resource page at at Jericho, can you talk about the methodology for this analysis?  

Locke: Sure, I’d be happy to. I’ll try not to get into it too much, because I lived this for a year, so I could nerd out on it for a long time. But let’s just kind of, kind of, to sort of walk through it from the top. So, our objective, you know, Andres you said in the beginning, this is a cost-benefit analysis. So our number one goal is to be able to quantify, and we, in dollars specifically for our study, which we think is important, the dollars for the costs of doing some action on the environment, and then the dollars for the benefit that that action has on reducing the risk in the environment. 

So there are two separate prongs in our analysis, you can think about them separately, cost is much more straightforward. NASA has a very strong cost estimating practice. And we tried to leverage that as well as literature that’s already out there in the world to answer questions, you know, what is the cost to remove 50 pieces of debris? That’s something we answered in the phase one study. We leveraged that and carried it forward into this into this current study. And then also, you know, costing things. What does it cost to equip the spacecraft with the ability to shield themselves from small debris?  

So, the first part of that part of our methodology is to estimate those costs and dollars using engineering analysis, the literature as already mentioned, and specifically, we tried to bound those costs between an optimistic cost so you know, what’s the lowest cost that we could reasonably expect? And then the pessimistic bound, so what’s the highest cost? And so, kind of by doing that, we could not for the time, go into very high fidelity of the costs, but try to bound where it might actually land, hopefully, in the future. 

But the main focus of this report, especially was on estimating the benefits, so what exactly do I mean by benefits? So we have a lot of spacecraft operating in orbit at the moment, and they can be affected by debris. You know, the simplest case to kind of consider here is that a piece of debris could strike your spacecraft, damaging it, or even rendering it inoperable. If you’re a spacecraft operator, that’s going to have some significant cost to you, right, it’s going to maybe make you lose operating time, which has a dollar value, maybe have to pay to replace the spacecraft. So basically, we want to quantify what effect debris has on the operators, if it strikes you, as well as other things that operators may do to mitigate that to avoid that risk from debris. 

So operators will track debris, and then they can get conjunction alerts. So basically, they’ll get an alert that they might collide with a piece of debris. They’ll pay to analyze that warning, is what we’re calling it, and they may also pay to maneuver out of the way of that piece of debris. So that also imposes costs on the operator.  

So we can take those risks. So basically, from all that we can boil it down to probability times consequence: The probability of a bad event happening (you have to maneuver, you have a warning, you get struck by a piece of debris) times how much money it will cost an operator to move out of the way. I mean, we can do that for all operators in space, right? You can imagine a sufficiently complex model that can predict all of these outcomes and then assign dollar values to it. That’s kind of our goal.  

What does this risk have to do with benefit? Well, the benefit for us is doing some type of action that reduces the risk that I was just talking about to spacecraft operators. So, say you’re a satellite operator, I want to be able to tell you that by shielding your spacecraft to a certain level, you can reduce the expected dollars you’ll have to spend on replacing your spacecraft by some amount of money. And that’s the benefit. That’s the very concrete benefit that I’m offering you by these options.  

So in general, we’re thinking about a reduction in risk, basically the difference between two different worlds: A world in which we didn’t have this action, like say, removing 50 pieces of debris, it’s just the normal baseline environment grows over time has all these consequences – these risks. Or one which we remove those 50 pieces of debris? Where’s the difference between those two? And that’s the benefit. There’s a lot of details exactly how those calculations are done. But in the end, we can run a model with a bunch of scenarios, change the environment in different ways and understand how the risk changes between those environments. And that’s the benefit. 

Host: Thanks for explaining that. What do you think are key findings from the report? 

Locke: Yeah, I think there’s a few key findings. And the first, I think the thing we were hoping to get out of the report, and that we achieved was simply that we can do this analysis to begin with. So, the fact that we can calculate the costs, we can calculate the benefits across a huge variety of actions from removing debris to tracking a piece of debris on demand when you get a warning. So, we, you know, what would the value of offering that service be? What’s the benefit and cost of moving your spacecraft out of the way post mission disposal at the end of mission? We’re able to quantify all those and compare them directly to each other.  

So, we think that by demonstrating the ability to do this, we’re not only offering near-term insights, and you know, what, maybe are the most cost effective methods to address the debris problem, but also showing that this is a useful and tractable perspective on the debris problem that NASA and hopefully the broader space community can use to, you know, really, cost effectively address this problem over time. You know, this is something that we feel strongly about NASA feels strongly about, and we want to provide the effective tools to the world to be able to address it effectively. 

I think a couple of other more specific lower-level findings: One is that we found that remediating or removing debris can be similarly or approaching the cost effectiveness of other options. You know, the wisdom in the past I think has been an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And that is true in some certain instances. But we found that, you know, by removing or meeting certain types of debris, it might be just as effective as spending another, the marginal dollar somewhere else on shielding or on post mission disposal, so remediation can be very cost effective. That’s an important finding, we think. 

And other is that lower year post mission disposals. Years may be cost effective. This is a debate currently in the space community, what’s the correct, you know, “year rule” essentially, in which spacecraft operators should move their satellites so they’ll naturally decay within those certain number of years. So we found that there may be an argument in the shorter term to move into a lower year and more aggressive rule to remove spacecraft from the environment.  

We also found that maybe one single “year rule,” as we’ve kind of currently have implemented, may not be the most effective, we might want to think about different rules for different people, a tiered approach, things like that. Yeah, I think those are some of the major findings. 

Host: You mentioned solutions in the report. What actions is NASA taking right now to address the issue of orbital debris? 

Locke: Yeah, we think it’s that’s the things it’s a critical problem. I think that’s been reflected in what we’ve announced and worked on for this report being part of that, and even the past couple of months. So NASA recently released its Space Sustainability Strategy for Earth Orbit. And you know, that really sets out the vision for how we plan to address the problem of orbital debris. 

You know, if you go read that strategy, you can just search and look for it, we can put in the show notes. The strategy really emphasize the importance of orbital debris, the urgency of addressing it, and also the importance of being deliberate in our approach. So this kind of report addresses all of those, especially the latter, you know: What are really the things we can do to best spend our money and space sustainability to be as effective as possible? 

This is my personal perspective, kind of stepping away from this strategy: I think you can think about NASA’s role here in a couple parts. One is that we want to conduct our own missions well. So, when NASA has a spacecraft in orbit, we want to find the best ways to be sustainable ourselves and continue to push ourselves to not generate debris, be responsible actors in the space environment. Things like our orbital debris mitigation and standard practices; how we apply those to our own missions is really key here.  

The second part, you know is NASA continuing and growing our role as a leader in the broader space sustainability community. And that includes the modeling and research like we’re talking about in this report, and that NASA has done for decades, as well, as you know, growing the seeds we planted in technology development. If you look at the most recent round of SBIR [Small Business Innovation Research] awards that just came out within the last week, you’ll see several awards, specifically for orbital debris mitigation, orbital debris remediation, and that reflects some of the small investments we’ve been making over time. 

And the last thing I think I’ll highlight here is that, you know, NASA has announced that we’re starting the Office of Space Sustainability. They’re gonna be the, you know, the champions of that within our organization, both for that internal-looking perspective, like I mentioned, as well as the champion for leading this charge throughout the whole space community.  

And then, you know, last thing, I’ll just One more last thing I’ll just note is that, you know, LEO was only one part of the picture. We want to be responsible space actors, not just in Earth orbit, but in everywhere that we operate, and continuing to lead across all of those domains. 

Host: So the low Earth orbit economy continues to grow. But what happens farther out as we return to the Moon and beyond? Could we apply some of the strategies recommended in this report? 

Locke: Yeah, I think absolutely, we can. I think there are some caveats to that, that I’ll just touch on a little bit. And you know, recognize that, as we start thinking beyond Earth orbit, there’s a lot of things we do even more things we don’t know, I think we’ll talk about some things we don’t know in Earth orbit, but there’s even more in the Moon. But I think the one thing that I want to highlight first off is that going back to the Moon, as NASA cast this vision for going to the Moon more and more often and past the Moon with sustainable operations. We have an opportunity to avoid some potential mistakes of our past and steward the lunar environment right from the very beginning, you know. As we’re operating there, how do we think about the debris problem? How do we think about other types of sustainability? The answer to your specific question of the strategy that’s recommended in this report, I think the answer is both yes and no. No, in that the methods that we looked at concretely are specific to Earth orbit. And some of them even just for low Earth orbit, which our study specifically looked at, although we also want to look at geostationary orbit as well, or GEO.  

And, you know, as we start to talk about the Moon, the realities in orbital mechanics are just different.  

So, one example here would be think of like disposing a spacecraft at the end of orbit. And Earth, you can think about either putting it in a disposal, graveyard orbit that’ll stay way out of people’s way for a long time, or deorbiting it in Earth. What do you do in the Moon necessarily? There’s not as much of a graveyard kind of position around the Moon. You don’t have Earth’s atmosphere to burn up in necessarily to dispose of your spacecraft. So, how we exactly apply these concepts to the Moon will change and we’ll have to think about them slightly differently. 

I think even just another point, just from an analysis standpoint, our analysis and most analysis for sustainability is statistical in nature, right? So, it’s thinking about what might happen in the future. As we’re thinking about the Moon right now, we’re not operating very many spacecraft there, so statistical power of analysis, like the ones we’re doing will kind of break down, so we’ll have to be a little bit more innovative, kind of more qualitative and leading forward rather than just always relying on the analysis that we necessarily can for Earth orbit. 

But yes, I think, in that we still need to do similar types of things that we mentioned in this report. W ‘re still going to need to track the debris that any debris that’s in around the moon or beyond, we still need to not create debris mitigate the creation of debris. And who knows, maybe we’ll need to clean it up too, although hoping we won’t get there. 

 And similarly, we will also want to think about, you know, similar to this report, what are the most cost effective ways that we can implement space sustainability so that we can be the most sustainable per dollar so that we can make sure we’re sustainable as possible for not us, but all the actors that we’re working with? And so, I hope that we’ll continue to think about this well, for as we kind of moved to other domains. 

Host: Sustainability is a key word.  

Locke: Yes. 

Host: What information do you think is lacking for assessing orbital debris risk management, and mitigation? 

Locke: I think there’s a lot here, but I’ll just touch on a few different things that we would have at least like to have in this analysis and we hope to find in the future. And we there’s a lot we don’t know about debris in Earth orbit right now, we don’t necessarily know how much we have an estimate of how much is up there. But there’s pretty wide error bounds and some disagreement amongst different communities on how many debris are up there? What size are they? How, how, like, what their density or mass. And all these are very important implications for what we should do about the problem. We also don’t know a lot kind of in the same not knowing about Earth orbit bucket of, you know, how those debris might actually interact with our spacecraft. If they hit a robotic spacecraft, how much are they gonna actually damage it? What will the effects be? What should we expect? So all of those, all of these things are very important for us to be able to better estimate the risks and that’s the benefits for these types of analysis. 

For us, our study specifically, we really liked to be able to improve the cost estimates for the types of things we’ve been talking about, we’ve kept them pretty bounded but they’re often even one or two orders of magnitude in width. So there are very wide error bounds in our cost estimate.  

If you’ll see some of the visualizations in our report, you’ll see huge bars sometimes. And you know, we really want to be able to better understand the costs so we can get those further down and provide better information to decision makers and our researchers and know what they should really look at.  

And I think the last thing I’ll touch on, that’s part of the space sustainability strategy is that this new report represents a new perspective in terms of thinking about the debris problem thinking about it in dollars, thinking about in in short term consequence. We need to do some more work to understand how all of these perspectives fit together. So how does that long-term 200-year perspective that I mentioned earlier, complement and work with the short-term perspective? Where do they make sense to look at? How can we build them together into a unified framework for how we think about space sustainability again and in orbit? So, there’s the practical level and connecting the models together that we’re talking about, and the theoretical level and how they should fit together on the conceptual level? 

Host: So what are the most promising methods you see for mitigating orbital debris? 

Locke: I think, yeah, just point us back to kind of the findings from this more recent report, that’s kind of the best evidence base that I have for kind of pointing us to promising methods. The report found, you know, mentioned that remediation in general was promising, but specifically remediation methods that can touch or affect a large amount of debris for a single investment are very promising. 

Lasers are a good example of this without the only one. But basically, there’s a lot of debris out there. So you need to think very critically about where you invest so that you can not just remove one or two pieces, but you want to be able to think about intelligently affecting a great number of them.  

So that’s kind of the vague one, lasers are a good option, you know, we’ll talk about I think this a little later, nudging debris out of the way of collisions, even going after small debris that we don’t normally think about targeting, but that are risks to human spaceflight and other things that we really care about and think are really important. 

There’s several mitigation methods that are very promising and that we’re already doing, which is great. They’re just good to highlight again. So, whenever a spacecraft is done with their mission, moving themselves to a lower orbit, or even deorbiting themselves completely, or to graveyard orbit. It’s very important, right? This is the last time we’ll have control over this object before it becomes a piece of debris. We’d like to move it somewhere where it’s not going to go on to cause more harm. So, post mission disposal is very important. 

Shielding could also be really important, depending on your assumptions about the number of small debris but really But simply adding a little bit of shielding crews to your spacecraft can make it so that you not only survived through your mission, but also that you survived to get to post mission disposal like I just mentioned. This is something that’s highlighted in the Orbital Debris Standard Mitigation Plan, something that people know, but again, was very cost effective.  

And last thing that I’ll mention that I think is interesting, it’s particularly interesting is an idea of on demand tracking. So what I mean by this is, we currently track you know, large debris, you know, through our nation’s space situational awareness capabilities, and we know where they are with decently high uncertainty.  

So we have, we don’t we know kind of where they are, we know kind of where they’ll be. But there’s really a big, error ellipsoid on kind of where that where they’ll actually wind up in a day or two. And what this means is, if you’re operating close to one of these debris, you could get a warning that you’re going to collide with it with very high uncertainty, and you might maneuver more than you need to if we knew better where the debris was.  

By tracking on demand, we can say, well, let’s just keep the same level of granularity and tracking that we currently have. But then whenever there might be a potential conjunction, let’s interrogate the piece of debris with a more high precision method of tracking. We’ll get more data from it. And then we can avoid a lot of maneuvers and a lot of costs that we might otherwise have. So it’s one of those things that wouldn’t show up in a long-term perspective. But we find that we can significantly reduce operators’ costs by something as simple as just figuring out sometimes where debris are better. 

There are more than we want to touch on that are in this report. How should we go about characterizing or better understanding the environment for all of these things? And you know, the thing that’s interesting that I personally want to research, and would love for others to research more to is responsive actions in the case that something goes wrong. So, hopefully, we don’t have any more fragmentation events, but if we do, how can we respond to those better when the debris is not tracked very well and in a much more dense area of space? It presents a unique opportunity maybe to do something about those creating debris right then instead of waiting for a longer time. 

Host: Thank you for that. So, it sounds like this report, along with the phase one report: Would you consider these to be good resources for project managers, mission managers? 

Locke: Yeah, we hope it is a good resource to mission managers. You know, we know we understand that, as a mission manager, you have hopefully good and effective policy guidance from things like the Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Plan (ODMSP), as well as the requirements that you have in place, but I think there’s a couple reasons that why this could be helpful to you as a mission manager.

One is understanding for your mission the types of actions that you can take to either effectively meet the policy requirements set upon you or even to go beyond them. You know, think about adding a little more shielding, you know, could be more effective than even above what ODMSP calls for, or, you know, advocating for something that you might want to have for your mission, like better tracking of small debris or on-demand tracking like I just mentioned.

So these are kind of like the realm of the possible. What would you like to see as a mission manager? What can you implement on your mission to more effectively implement your guidance and even go beyond it?  

I think the other thing I would say, too, is you know, please let us know what we missed. Can we improve cost estimates, costs that you’re seeing that we’re not integrating well into the analysis right now? Are there methods that you’d like us to consider to see how cost effective they are, and to kind of inject in the policy decision making process? So please reach out to any of the study authors any time. We’d love to have a conversation with you [to] understand your experience and talk more about and what this analysis means to you and what it can mean in the future. 

Host: Going back to potential solutions, you brought up lasers as an example of a cost-effective method of nudging objects large and small. NASA uses lasers right now for communications. It’s faster, it can be more flexible, but how would it work for orbital debris? 

Locke: Yeah, this is an idea that’s been around for a little while. We didn’t come up with it, we just put it into our analysis and saw what happened.  

So basically, the lasers can be used for communication, they can carry information, they also carry some amount of energy. So when you ping something with a laser, it can transfer momentum to that object and then moving it slightly. This is, can be really valuable for orbital debris where either we need a very small nudge of a large object, or it’s a very small object. So, imparting even a small amount of momentum makes a large impact on its trajectory. 

So the basic idea here is using lasers to transfer momentum to objects, either through photon pressure, so this is just the energy of light bouncing off of it, right, or ablating surface of the object. So, causing basically some plasma on the surface. And as it oblates off, you know, kind of releases some of its material, it’ll cause a thrust in the direction that we hopefully want.

So what we do with a laser, for instance, there’s a few different things we could do, I’ll go through like three different, there’s several things we can do with lasers. One is you could nudge large pieces of debris. So with large pieces of debris, right now, they’re kind of floating around in space. They can collide with each other, and we don’t have any control over being able to avoid those collisions. And the collisions can create millions of new pieces of debris. They’re a huge source of risk for the future environment.

So if we had a laser station, either on the ground or in even in space, we could, you know, use the same conjunction messages that I mentioned earlier between two pieces of debris. And if they might collide, use a laser to nudge one or both of the objects out of the way of each other. And then hopefully, at least reducing the risk of that collision or avoiding it. So that’s one way [of] nudging large objects. 

The other is that we can even try to remove objects from space using lasers. We’re especially interested in thinking about this for smaller objects, because with large objects, you have to hit it with laser too many times to move it a significant amount. But with a smaller object, you could hit it once or twice in a small window of engagement, and either completely deorbit or move it very close to deorbiting.  

So you can think about when the study we looked specifically at deorbiting centimeter was like 1 to 10 centimeter, I think about like a baseball-sized piece of debris, marble to baseball, and removing it from orbit so that it doesn’t hazard spacecraft.  

The third way I’ll say is lasers can be used, they provide really effective tracking. So we’re not talking about momentum transfer anymore. They just give us a really good idea of where the position of an object is. So I talked earlier about on-demand tracking, tracking to kind of get a better position on something, this is already being researched and used by other folks, including at NASA and around the world to use Satellite Laser Ranging. So figuring out where satellites are where debris are with a very high, low positional uncertainty so that we can have better information to make all these decisions we’ve been kind of talking about here. So those are three different ways. 

Host: Those strategies are in the report. And, of course, we’ll link the report down in our resources page.

Can you tell us a bit about OTPS? 

Locke: Yeah, OTPS. The Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy is an office within the Office of the Administrator at NASA Headquarters. We strive to provide evidence based high quality analysis to the administrator, deputy administrator and their office as well as the mission directorates to answer hard questions like this. So you know, providing analysis bringing together the community, the NASA community so that, as an agency, we can make the best possible decisions, make the best policy to move everyone forward. So we’re that kind of analysis, rigorous, evidence-based shop for part of the agency, but especially the suite of the administrator. 

Host: So now that this report is out, what’s the next step for the research team? 

Locke: Yeah, we still have grand ambitions for this project. You know, what we’re doing, we think of as very ambitious, and we’ve been trying to push it as long, as far as possible. We’ve been describing what we’re doing. We’ve been doing it, we talked about phase one, phase two, because we think of this as a long-term effort. You know, we’re moving. We’re trying to push toward this perspective, in the longer term. We recognize that it’s not something that we’re going to be able to do, well, overnight, or even in a year or two, unfortunately.  

We’re thinking about hard work on phase three. So, thinking about how can we answer those questions that I mentioned earlier? How much is something worth? What’s the best portfolio of actions that agency like NASA, or the broader space community can take to address this problem? 

And so we managed to prove that this can work under the conditions that we’ve set up so far. But phase three is really pushing to give us better costs, which we didn’t really address. And I’ve kind of touched on something we would love to have: Better economic measures, specifically, discounting dollars over time, being able to think better about the time horizon. So, bridging the gap between that 200-year future, to the 30-year kind of short-term limits. How do we think about those things? 

We’re really excited to hopefully be able to compare portfolios of actions. So in the study, we just looked at one thing at a time, let’s just add drag sails, or let’s just use lasers, and look at each of the cost effectiveness of those independently. We really want to be able to do now is imagine future worlds where we can do one or more of these things at the same time, and how do we find the best portfolio of all these things to invest in, and then eventually, hopefully, to implement. 

And then we also want to be able to share what we’ve been working on. We want everyone in the community to be able to push this research forward. So we’re hoping to, you know, share our code base openly, hopefully release that to you all, and then, you know, work with everyone to kind of integrate this analysis and make sure that we can best understand not only the next step for the research team, but the next step for the whole space community in terms of space sustainability and Earth sustainability.

Host: Okay, I want to let you go, but before we close out, I have one more question for you. In your professional life, what was your giant leap? 

Locke: Yeah, my giant leap was coming to NASA. So I have joined the agency a little over a year ago, I was working, you know, in the DC area on data analysis type works for the federal government, not specifically on space at all. But a former mentor and colleague of mine, Bhavya Lal, who was the associate administrator in this office, you know, convinced me to come and to work on these amazing and important problems. I’m so glad that I did. So leaped over to NASA, and, you know, been able to work with a great team, great office, and really excited about the things we’ve been able to accomplish here in this report and the things we’re planning to do in the near future. So I’m excited to be able to share it with everyone. Thanks for listening. And please reach out any time. 

Host: We’re so glad you’re here. Jericho, all of this was highly informative. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

Locke: Thank you.

Host: That’s it for this episode of Small Steps, Giant Leaps. For a transcript of this show and more about Jericho Locke, or the topics we discussed today, visit our resource page at And don’t forget to check out our other podcasts like Houston, We Have a Podcast. Thanks for listening.