The short- and long-term effects of spacecraft explosions, as a function of the end-of-life re-orbit altitude above the geostationary orbit (GEO), were analyzed in terms of their additional contribution to the debris flux in the GEO ring. The simulated debris clouds were propagated for 72 yrs, taking into account all the relevant orbital perturbations.
The results obtained show that 6–7 additional explosions in GEO would be sufficient, in the long term, to double the current collision risk with sizable objects in GEO. Unfortunately, even if spacecraft were to re-orbit between 300 and 500 km above GEO, this would not significantly improve the situation. In fact, an altitude increase of at least 2000 km would have to be adopted to reduce by one order of magnitude the long-term risk of collision among geostationary satellites and explosion fragments. The optimal debris mitigation strategy should be a compromise between the reliability and effectiveness of spacecraft end-of-life passivation, the re-orbit altitude and the acceptable debris background in the GEO ring. However, for as long as the re-orbit altitudes currently used are less than 500 km above GEO, new spacecraft explosions must be avoided in order to preserve the geostationary environment over the long term.