The University of Southampton
Engineering and the Environment

Dr Francesca Letizia 

EPSRC Research fellow

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Francesca Letizia is a Research Fellow in the Astronautics Research Group of the University of Southampton. She completed her PhD in February 2016 with a thesis on “Space debris cloud evolution in Low Earth Orbit”. She hold a BSc and MSc in Aerospace Engineering from Politecnico di Torino.

I am a Research Fellow in the Astronautics Research Group studying long term propagation methods for space debris and planetary protection analysis.

In February 2016, I completed my PhD at the University of Southampton where I studied a new approach to model space debris evolution. Previously, I worked at Politecnico di Torino as a research assistant, where I was involved in the optimisation of hybrid rockets and where I had the big chance to be part of the winning team of the Global Trajectory Optimization Competition 2012.

I got a M.Sc. degree in Aerospace Engineering at Politecnico di Torino and a Diploma of the Alta Scuola Politecnica, a multidisciplinary project from Politecnico di Torino and Politecnico di Milano for the top 5% students of the two universities.




Research interests

Space debris has gained in the past years increasing attention from space agencies, companies and researchers trying to understand how to limit its growth. In fact, an unlimited growth of debris would be a problem both for the environment around the Earth and also for everyday activities that rely on space infrastructures, such as GPS.

Many models of the debris population have been proposed to understand its evolution with time and to assess the efficacy of remediation strategies. However, they usually neglect all of the objects smaller than 10 cm, even though they could still be very dangerous in collisions. This is done because the number of small objects is so large that the cost of the simulations would be too high.

In my PhD I have developed a fast method to follow the motion of small fragments generated by a collision. The approach studied considers not the single fragments but rather the cloud they form, looking at the evolution of its density. In this way, it will be possible to have a quick estimation as to how the presence of small fragments changes the collision risk for operational satellites and to assess the criticality of different scenarios of collision.

In my current research I am investigating possible applications of the propagation method, such as, for example, the development of an environmental index for space missions.

Another major research field has been the study of the compliance of interplanetary missions to planetary protection requirements. This implies studying the probability that a spacecraft or a rocket body collides with a celestial body considering the long term evolution of its trajectory. The probability of these impacts to happen should be below a set threshold, defined to limit the risk of contamination of other planets due to space missions.

The analysis performed is based on a Monte Carlo approach and the identifications of conditions of impacts and resonances with celestial bodies.

Research group



Dr Francesca Letizia
Engineering and the Environment University of Southampton Highfield Southampton SO17 1BJ

Room Number:13/5075

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