Science

Space debris from Russian anti-satellite missile test detected in telescope images and videos

These radar images from the Numerica Corporation show the Cosmos 1408 satellite before (left) and after the impact of a Russian anti-satellite test on November 15, 2021. (Image credit: Numerica Corporation)

Pieces of a wrecked Soviet-era satellite are visible in new telescope images after its destruction by a Russian anti-satellite weapons test on Monday (November 15).

The images were captured by Numerica Corp., a Colorado-based company that provides space debris object tracking, and shared by the company’s partner, Slingshot Aerospace, on Twitter. They show images and video of the debris from a direct ascent anti-satellite test conducted by Russia on Monday that sent a missile from the ground to destroy a missing satellite called Cosmos-1408.

The telescopic images show just a few of the more than 1,500 traceable pieces of debris from Cosmos-1408 after its destruction by Russia. The US Space Department, US military officials, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson are among authorities condemning Russia for the act, which they said put the International Space Station on fire. risk from debris.

Related: Worst Space Debris Events of All Time

In a description with the images, Slingshot said that Numerica “took images of the debris field created by the Russian antisatellite test against # Cosmos1408.” Numerica has a global network of telescopes and tracking software to aid in space domain awareness, according to its website.

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While Slingshot said Numerica is fully responsible for the images, Slingshot told Space.com that it also has a product called the Slingshot Beacon that uses data from various sources for space debris tracking.

“We will analyze data sources and joint data messages (CDMs) from the United States government and other sources to present to space operators,” Marketing Manager Madeline Reto said in an email on Tuesday (November 16). “We determine which of their assets are at high risk of conjunctions. In situations like this, operators can obtain thousands of CDMs from the government to [that] Slingshot ensures that customers only have to track high-risk ones. “

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The event has already had a ripple effect on international space operations. The seven-person Expedition 66 crew, which includes two Russian cosmonauts and three American astronauts, temporarily took refuge in their return craft on Monday as the orbiting complex passed through the debris cloud.

The space station is said to move through the debris field every 90 minutes; it orbits approximately 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. Space debris tracker LeoLabs suggests that the cloud of satellite pieces varies in altitude between 273 miles and 323 miles (440 to 520 km) above Earth.

China also has a module of the Tiangong low-Earth orbit space station, Tianhe, which currently has three astronauts on board. It is unclear if the crew is taking special action as a result of the incident. Tianhe’s average altitude is about 229 miles (368 km).

Russia and the United States are the main partners of the ISS, and their collaboration on the project dates back to the early 1990s amid occasional disputes between the countries, including threats reported by Russia to leave the ISS program. in June.

In August, NASA and Roscosmos said their collaboration remains strong despite a July incident in which the newly arrived Russian Nauka module accidentally tilted the space station by 540 degrees, prompting a temporary spacecraft emergency. The astronauts were in no danger, NASA said at the time. Thruster misfires on a Russian Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft altered the orientation of the ISS again in October for about 30 minutes.

A NASA statement on the new debris incident on Monday noted that the hatches between the American and Russian side of the space station segments remain open.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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