Debris from Anti-satellite Test Hits Small Russian Satellite

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Debris from China’s destructive anti-satellite test in 2007 likely collided with a small Russian satellite in January, a U.S.-based orbital debris expert said in a blog posting March 8.

According to T.S. Kelso, technical program manager for the Center for Space Standards & Innovation (CSSI), the collision involved Russia’s Ball Lens In The Space (BLITS) retroreflector satellite and a chunk of China’s Fengyun 1C weather satellite, whose deliberate destruction by a ground-based missile created tens of thousands of pieces of potentially hazardous space junk.

On Feb. 4, Russian scientists working with the Institute for Precision Instrument Engineering in Moscow contacted CSSI to report a “significant change” in the orbit for the BLITS satellite, including changes to its spin velocity and attitude, according to Kelso’s blog, posted on the website of orbit-modeling software provider AGI. CSSI is the research arm of that company.

The 7.5-kilogram BLITS nanosatellite was designed to test laser ranging technology.

An analysis by the Russian researchers estimated that the change occurred Jan. 22. “They requested help in determining whether these changes might have been the result of a collision with another object in orbit,” Kelso said. 

CSSI reviewed its orbital conjunction database and found only one close approach, or conjunction, involving BLITS, Kelso wrote. “Although the predicted distance would seem to preclude a collision, the fact that the close approach occurred within 10 seconds of the estimated change in orbit made it appear likely that this piece of Fengyun 1C debris actually collided with BLITS,” Kelso said.

Kelso said CSSI’s analysis was confirmed by data released March 3 by the Joint Space Operations Center, the U.S. military’s space traffic management center.