Sunday, January 28, 2007

Fengyun 1C - Now we have over 500 pieces cataloged

The worst fear of military and civilian space analyst has been realized. Yesterday and early this morning the U.S. Space Command released on their Space Track website well over 500 pieces of space debris associated with the Fengyun 1C satellite.

A check this morning shortly before 0900 EST indicated 516 pieces of debris associated with that satellite have been catalogued by NORAD after the Chinese ASAT test on January 11, 2007. Here is the range of known objects at this point:

International Designator / SSC#
1999-025E / 29716 to 1999-025AM / 29747 [Original pieces cataloged]
1999-025AN / 29748 to 1999-025LZ /29999
1999-025MA / 30001 to 1999-025WS / 30233

According to rankings released by Ted Molczan on Seesat group, this would make this Chinese ASAT test the second greatest on orbit destruction of a space object in history. The top four according to his list are:

Rank / SSN / Int Designator / Pieces
4 / 27721 / 1965-082UT / 474
3 / 27596 / 1986-019VN / 493
2 / 30233 / 1999-025WS / 516
1 / 29036 / 1994-029AET / 714

According to one analyst on SEESAT, Björn Gimle, "regarding the collision hazard, the ISS has a westward precession and Fengyun eastward; Fengyun's perigee precesses ; and the debris' high apogees decays into lower altitudes. These work together to bring more objects into the ISS' orbit. The worst week in 99 days, with as much as 99 km altitude tolerance, and 300 km range, seems to be March 8-14 with 51 "close" encounters (within 10 km altitude 0228-0306 is worse with five encounters? And this was done before I knew of the "300" new fragments. With these, I only get eight more in range, and the worst week moves back to March 9-15."

As you can see that analysis was before this next round of debris postings this morning. And all this with a March 15 Space Shuttle launch to the ISS. NASA and ISS Space Managers have to be on the edges of their chairs right now.

More as we get more details in.