Did someone kill one of our old satellites?

US military satellite explodes above Earth

A US military satellite exploded after detecting an unexplained “sudden spike in temperature”, sending dozens of chunks of debris tumbling into different orbits around Earth

A US military satellite exploded after detecting an unexplained “sudden spike in temperature”, sending dozens of chunks of debris tumbling into different orbits around Earth.

Civilian company CelesTrak was first to notice the explosion of the once-secret weather satellite and the US Air Force subsequently confirmed that it had been lost.

The satellite was an ageing component of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program which the US military began developing the in the 1960s to help plan reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

In 1972 the system was declassified, and data made available to civilian scientists.

The lost satellite was the 13th to be launched as part of DMSP, designated DMSP-F13, and had been in Earth orbit since 1995.

Air Force Space Command confirmed to SpaceNews.com that the “catastrophic event” came after “a sudden spike in temperature” was detected, followed by “an unrecoverable loss of attitude control”.

While operators were deciding how to “render the vehicle safe” they detected a debris cloud which indicated that the satellite had been destroyed.

The explosion has caused at least 43 pieces of debris to scatter into orbit, which are now being tracked by the US Air Force.

Air Force Col. John Giles, the Joint Space Operations Center’s director, told SpaceNews.com: “While the initial response is complete, JSpOC personnel will continue to assess this event to learn more about what happened and what it will mean for users within this orbit.”

Due to the age of DMSP-F13 it was no longer a critical part of the network, and the US government expects that its loss will cause only a “slight reduction” in real-time weather data.

Twitter: T.S. Kelso – It appears we’ve had another debris event with 26 new pieces of debris from DMSP 5D-2 F13 launch. Analyzing circumstances now.

TLEs suggest event occurred on Feb 3 at ~1715 UTC: pic.twitter.com/dpDnK058ze
— T.S. Kelso (@TSKelso) February 26, 2015
Event time appears closer to 1723 UTC. Debris plane does not align with planes of B, C, or E: pic.twitter.com/9NTx1D9lKn
— T.S. Kelso (@TSKelso) February 26, 2015

Like all DMSP satellites it orbited the earth at an altitude of around 500 miles in a “sun-synchronous orbit” – meaning that they flew in a path taking in the north and south poles.

On each path around the earth, which took roughly 101 minutes, they would see a slightly different part of the planet. This would give each satellite a complete view of the entire planet’s surface twice a day.

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