Status Report

Recent Satellite Breakup

By SpaceRef Editor
April 24, 2005
Filed under ,
Recent Satellite Breakup

The latest observed aerodynamic breakup of a satellite occurred on 24 February, when the 15-year-old Molniya 1-77 (1990-039A, U.S. Satellite Number 20583) dropped to a very low perigee altitude before finally falling back to Earth the next day. At the time of the minor fragmentation, the orbit of the spacecraft was about 75 km by 1700 km. Such breakups, which normally include the loss of solar arrays and other appendages, occur when a satellite is decaying from a highly elliptical orbit with a perigee below 100 km. Fortunately, the debris produced in such events are usually very shortlived. In this case up to five debris were detected, and all are assessed to have decayed within a few days. However, due to their high apogees such debris do present a temporary potential risk of collision with other resident space objects in low Earth orbit.

During 2004, five satellites (three spacecraft and two rocket bodies) decaying from highly elliptical orbits were observed to breakup within a few days prior to reentry. Four of these satellites were Russian (three were launched by the former Soviet Union), and one was of U.S. origin.

SpaceRef staff editor.