Russia’s ASAT wreckage is creating a “flurry” of close approaches with satellites

WASHINGTON – Debris from a demonstration of Russian anti-satellite weapons in November creates close-ranging jumps, in some cases tens of thousands a week, with active satellites in low Earth orbit.

Such events, called by COMSPOC “a flurry of conjunction”, were first observed in January and arise due to the unique circumstances of the Russian test ASAT on November 15, which destroyed the Cosmos 1408 satellite and created thousands of pieces of garbage.

A flurry can lead to thousands of close rapprochements or connections in just a few days. “In the first week of April this week alone, there will be 40,000 combinations, which we forecast solely for this one event,” said Travis Langster, vice president and general manager of COMSPOC, during a panel at the 24th annual FAA Commercial Space Exhibition. Transport Conference 17 February.

These jumps from the interaction of the wreckage of the Cosmos 1408 with the constellations of remote sensing satellites. Space 1408 was in orbit at an inclination of 82.3 degrees, while many remote sensing satellites are in solar-synchronous orbits with an inclination of about 97 degrees. When the orbits precess, the debris overlaps the orbits of the remote sensing satellites but goes in the opposite direction.

“When they sync, you get the perfect storm: they’re in the same plane of orbit, but rotating against each other, crossing each other twice into orbit, over and over again,” said Dan Altrogge, director of integrated operations and research at COMSPOC, in interview. These squalls last for several days until the orbits are in sync.

COMSPOC first noticed a surge of combinations at the beginning of the year associated with the group or “Flock” of Dove cubas controlled by Planet. This first surge peaked at about 4,000 daily connections, defined as approaches within 10 kilometers, on January 2nd. The second flurry of connections, with a maximum of about 2,000 collisions on January 25, was related to another set of satellites on the planet.

COMSPOC predicts an even stronger conjuncture flurry in early April, as the wreckage collides with several planetary plaids, including a peak with more than 14,000 combinations in one day, April 5th. Another flurry is projected with the same cuboids in about six months, but with a peak, only about twice as strong as garbage spreads and returns.

The planet is experiencing some of the strongest impacts of Russian ASAT wreckage due to the size of its constellation, but it is not alone. “It’s no different for any Earth observation system that uses solar synchronous orbits at this altitude,” Oltrogge said. “We expect it to affect a lot.”

A diagram showing peaks combined with active satellites in LEO caused by the wreckage of the Russian ASAT. Credit: COMSPOC

According to COMSPOC, during the flurry of connections in early April, the number of connections involving all active satellites in low Earth orbit will reach a peak of almost 50,000 per day. This includes a background level of about 15,000 per day unrelated to the ASAT test, along with satellites Planet and other companies and organizations such as Satellogic, Spire and Swarm.

However, since many of these satellites are cuboids, the risk of collisions does not increase as dramatically. While the background average daily collision frequency has a background level of around 0.0005, during the surge in early April it reaches a peak of just over 0.0008.

Spaceships outside solar-synchronous orbits will also be affected, such as the constellation Starlink by SpaceX. COMSPOC predicts that, given the threshold for SpaceX to perform automated collision avoidance maneuvers, if there is a probability of a collision of 1 in 100,000, the constellation Starlink will perform up to 80 such maneuvers a day from Russian ASAT debris alone, peaking in early March.

Altrogge warned that the flurry of the combination could overwhelm space situational awareness (SSA) systems and make it difficult for operators to identify other potential collisions. “SSA systems, both obsolete and commercial, will be killed by this,” he said. “If you want to find a needle in a haystack, get rid of the hay. It adds a lot of hay. ” Russia’s ASAT wreckage is creating a “flurry” of close approaches with satellites

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