While many of the usual suspects are still the top space junk producers, much more debris is now floating around Earth’s atmosphere since the six years NASA last looked a the top 10 space junk missions.
NASA' s Orbital Debris Program Office said that by far the source of the greatest amount of orbital debris remains the Fengyun-1C spacecraft, which was the target of a People’s Republic of China anti-satellite test in January 2007.
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“This satellite alone now accounts for 3,428 cataloged fragments or almost 20% of the entire population of cataloged manmade objects in orbit about the planet. Additional debris from this test and other events are currently being tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN) and are officially cataloged on a routine basis,” NASA stated. In 2010 there were 2,841 pieces of junk from this spacecraft.
Orbital debris can include all manner of space system parts from derelict spacecraft and upper stages of launch vehicles to debris intentionally released during spacecraft separation from its launch vehicle or during mission operations and even tiny flecks of paint from small particle hits on existing spacecraft, NASA said.
The space agency says that 10 missions out of the 5,160 space missions that have launched since 1957 account for approximately one-third of all cataloged objects now in Earth orbit.
NASA said that the second and fourth most significant satellite breakups are Cosmos 2251 and Iridium 33 spacecraft, which were involved in
The first ever accidental satellite collision February 2009.
“While over 68% of the Cosmos debris cloud remains on orbit, only 58% of the Iridium cloud is on orbit, due in part to the higher area-to-mass ratio bias of the latter cloud. Because of their relatively high altitude, these clouds will continue to present a hazard for decades to come, NASA said.
Here are the top 10:
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Aside from the top 10, NASA made note of some other recent break-ups that are leaving more debris in orbit:
- In late November 2015, the decommissioned U.S. weather satellite NOAA-16 experienced a fragmentation event, resulting in a substantial debris cloud. There is no indication that the breakup was anything other than an explosion, possibly due to a battery failure.
- A System Obespecheniya Zapuska ullage motor from a Proton Block DM fourth stage broke up at approximately 12:12 GMT on 26 March 2016. These motors have a long history of fragmentations. This event is the 44th breakup of this class of object over its history and the first since 2014. Ullage motors, used to settle propellants prior to an engine. Given difficulties in tracking objects in elliptical and deep space orbits, there could be many more fragments on orbit.
- The Briz-M upper stage associated with the launch of Canada’s Nimiq 6 communications satellite fragmented on 23 December 2015 at approximately 16:00 GMT. The object consists of the core body of the Briz-M upper stage, the separable Auxiliary Propellant Tank having been jettisoned earlier in the launch sequence. As of 3 April 2016, eight debris had officially entered the SSN catalog in addition to the parent object.
- A debris object associated with the launch of Russia’s Spektr-R radio astronomy satellite fragmented on 3-4 August 2015. The object is described as one of five debris objects cataloged with this launch. The event, of unknown cause, produced a total of 24 debris. As of 3 April 2016 none had entered the SSN catalog.
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