Russian anti-satellite test was an ‘urgent threat’

Russian anti-satellite test was an 'urgent threat'

Debris from a Russian anti-satellite missile is wreaking havoc in orbit, with fragments of ex-spaceships circling Earth at dangerous speeds.

Dan Oltrogge, Chief Scientist of the space operations company COMSPOC, explained how space debris generated from anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) is a “urgent threat to security and sustainability” in a talk during this week’s annual Small Satellite Conference in Utah.

Debris from the 2021 destruction of Cosmos 1408, a 2,200 kg offline signals intelligence satellite, has led to an increase in close approaches, also known as “conjunction squalls,” with spacecraft spacecraft and active satellites launched into space.

“Conjunction storms represent a step change in the number of conjunctions that a satellite or family of satellites experiences with a fragmentation source,” Oltrogge said. The Register.

“A common form of formation is that a fragmentation event occurs that contaminates an orbital plane, and that plane then becomes coplanar with the orbital plane of an active satellite constellation.”

There have been hundreds of thousands of conjunctions with the remains of the Russian ASAT, he said. SpaceX’s Starlink satellites have experienced more than 6,000 close approaches, where some form of space junk has come within 10 km, SpaceNews first reported. Of those events, about 1,700 were involved with ASAT debris, Oltrogge told us.

However, conjunction storms don’t just affect Starlink birds. According to research, space debris affects most spacecraft in sun-synchronous orbit [PDF] led by COMSPOC. The International Space Station, for example, is at risk of colliding with ASAT debris. Over time, the debris particles will gradually disperse and fall due to orbital decay.

To avoid the build-up of conjunction bursts, Oltrogge recommended that space agencies and governments “stop conducting direct ascent ASAT tests and not intentionally produce fragments that create long-lived debris, which puts the spacecraft operator’s satellites at risk.”

“[They should] adopt internationally established consensus best practices for space operations, to include post-mission orbital lifetime minimization, [building] spacecraft that have a reliability of their post-mission disposal function of at least 95 percent and that share data, [to] be transparent about its operations, [and] help with capacity building for new spacecraft designers, builders and operators,” he told us. ®


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