A small spacecraft from Russia in orbit collided with space junk from an anti-satellite test from China. The Russian spacecraft may have been severely damaged, according to space.com.
According to the analysis made by the Center of Space Standards and Innovation or CSSI in Colorado, the collision between the space junk from China and the spacecraft from Russia occurred on the 20th of January. A chunk of China’s satellite named Fengyun 1C, which was intentionally destroyed by China in the year 2007 for an anti-satellite demonstration, hit the Russian satellite Ball Lens In The Space or BLITS. This damage six weeks ago of the small satellite from Russia highlights the growing threat possessed by space junk to low-Earth orbit activities, CSSI technical program manager T.S. Kelso reported. The event puts another additional name to the record of spacecrafts that have run-ins with space junk.
The Ball Lens In The Space or BLITS satellite is a nanosatellite that weighs 16.5 pounds (7.5 kilograms) and consists of two outer hemispheres of low-refraction-index glass and an inner ball of high-refraction-index glass. BLITS was launched four years ago, in the year 2009, as a secondary payload on a Russian rocket and tracked by the International Laser Ranging Service for precision satellite laser-ranging experiments.
The collision made in January 20 is the second substantial accident in space between an already defunct satellite/space debris and an active spacecraft. A U.S. satellite for communication was destroyed when it was hit by a defunct Russian Military satellite in February 2009, which then created a vast debris cloud in the orbit.
“It’s not the wake-up call, we’ve had too many of those already. Many satellites in LEO [low-Earth orbit] are having to maneuver on a regular basis to avoid threatening close approaches with debris,” said Brian Weeden, a technical adviser with the Secure World Foundation, an organization dedicated to the peaceful use of outer space. “This is just one more data point that shatters the myth of the ‘big sky’ theory regarding space activities and shows that debris is one of the most pressing threats satellite operators in LEO have to contend with,” Weeden told space.com in an email.
To make an example of his point, Brian Weeden pointed to an article made in 2009 by David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Wright documented three previous known cases of an active satellite being struck by space junk, once each in 1996, 2007 and 2009 when a U.S. telecommunications craft was destroyed by a collision with a dead Russian military satellite.
“Because of the large number of active satellites in space (more than 900) and the very large amount of debris, we estimate that a collision between a piece of debris larger than 1 cm (0.4 inch) with some active satellite in a near Earth orbit would occur on average every 2 to 3 years over the next decade (prior to several debris-producing events in 2007, our estimate was a collision every 5 to 6 years),” Wright wrote. “The observed collisions in 1996, 2007, and 2009 seem to roughly agree with this estimate.”
The Chinese anti-satellite test was, of course, one of the “debris-producing events” in 2007 that Wright references. In that controversial test, China destroyed one of its own defunct weather satellites, adding about 3,000 pieces of space junk to the ever-growing debris cloud around Earth.
“The danger from debris is increasing and, without significant changes in the way we operate in space, those minor precautions will no longer be adequate, replaced by a need for major precautions,” Don Kessler, the former head of NASA’s Orbital Debris Office told space.com via email.