Russian ASAT debris imperils DoD, NRO sats, while ISS risks increase: COMSPOC

01/04/2022 | Theresa Hitchens - Breaking Defense | External Article

By   THERESA HITCHENSon January 04, 2022 at 4:10 PM

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Path of the debris from Russia’s Nov. 15 ASAT missile test over the first 24 hours after impact with the Soviet-era Cosmos 1408 satellite, according to COMSPOC. (COMSPOC/CSSI volumetric analysis, with rendering by AGI, an Ansys Company)

WASHINGTON: Significant amounts of debris from Russia’s Nov. 15 anti-satellite weapon test will continue to threaten US military weather and spy satellites, as well as the International Space Station over the next several years, according to a detailed analysis by commercial space tracking firm COMSPOC.

The satellite most imperiled in the first 24 hours after the A-235/P-19 Nudol ASAT system’s interceptor smashed into Russia’s Cosmos 1408 bird was one of America’s four remaining Defense Meteorological Satellite Program weather sats, DMSP 5D-3 F18 (USA 210). Two other DMSP birds — DMSP 5D-3 F16 (USA 172) and DMSP 5D-15 (USA 147) — were also among the top 50 at-risk satellites in the immediate wake of the ASAT test, according to COMSPOC’s analysis.

As Space Force is already racing to replace the DMSPs before they simply conk out from old age, the military can hardly stand to lose one through a collision.

Fortunately, the risks to the DMSPs will reduce as the Cosmos 1408 fragments disperse over time, Dan Oltrogge, COMSPOC’s Integrated Operations and Research director and a key author in this analysis, explained in an interview. However, some pieces that ended up in a similar orbit as the weather sats (roughly 850 kilometers) will remain there, and thus remain a potential threat.

Overall, the analysis shows that the bulk of roughly 1,500 debris pieces being tracked by Space Command’s 18th Space Control Squadron — 904 pieces of which have been put in the public catalog — will de-orbit within approximately a three year timespan.

At the moment, however, the risks to active satellites in LEO from the ASAT debris remain real.

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