Predicated satellite debris trajectory.  Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com)

Images, Video, Interactive Tools Provide Insight into Satellite Collision

Article Updated: 26 Apr , 2016
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The unprecedented collision between two large satellites on February 10 has created a cloud of debris that likely will cause problems in Earth orbit for decades. To help understand the collision and potential future problems of the debris, Analytical Graphics, Inc., (AGI) of Philadelphia, working with its Colorado Springs-based research arm the Center for Space Standards & Innovation, has used its software to reconstruct the event, creating images and providing an interactive tool that allows the user to view the collision from any position or time. “We’ve worked around the clock since the collision to create these images and a video of the event,” Stefanie Claypoole, Media Specialist with AGI told Universe Today. “Our software can also assess the possibility of additional collisions by applying breakup models for debris prediction.”

AGI also has a video recreation of the event.



Debris cloud and predicated trajectories. Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com)

Debris cloud and predicated trajectories. Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com)


The collision occurred at approximately 1656 GMT between the Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 communications satellites. They collided about 800 km (490 miles) above Earth, over northern Siberia. The impact between the Iridium Satellite LLC-owned satellite and the 16-year-old satellite launched by the Russian government occurred at a closing speed of well over 15,000 mph. The low-earth orbit (LEO) location of the collision contains many other active satellites that could be at risk from the resulting orbital debris.
New debris, in red and previous debris, in green. Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com)

New debris, in red and previous debris, in green. Image courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com)


AGI and CSSI have a downloadable interactive viewer that allows users to recreate the event from any vantage point, or time.

Another tool called SOCRATES (Satellite Orbital Conjunction Reports Assessing Threatening Encounters in Space) is a service for the satellite operator community run by CSSI. What SOCRATES allows users to run conjunction analysis reports on satellites over a 7-day period, and identify close-approach situations and compare it against the entire NORAD TLE (two-line element sets) space catalog on an individual satellite or multiple satellites.

Sources: AGI, Rocket Girl Blog


33 Responses

  1. Tom says:

    Wow, just like a volcanic eruption cloud almost. But we won’t get any pretty sunsets out of this. 🙂

  2. dollhopf says:

    “Explore Earth’s Satellites with Google Earth” at UT from September 25th, 2008.

  3. robbi says:

    Geeeze, more junk to add the the equation!!

  4. robbi says:

    dollhopf -Thank you for the date, I;ve checked Earths’ Satillites from Google Earth from time to time, not that date. Informative!!!!

  5. dollhopf says:

    You’re welcome, Robbi!

    I still do not get the clue how to total the single masses of the 13,000 objects from the database in a speedy manner because I would like to know what the total volume is. Wouldn’t that be of interest for a future scrap metal merchant? All of this artificial satelites will be put out of service sooner or later.

  6. […] En la entrada anterior de esta serie dije que no tenía predicciones sobre la nube de desechos provocada por la colisión entre el Iridium 33 y el Cosmos 2251. Fue escribirlo y obtenerlos […] Vía Nancy Atkinson para Universe Today […]

  7. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    What effect will this have on observational astronomy?

    The other serious problem is the possibility of continuous cascade effect, where the probability of satellite collisions and fragmentation begin to increase exponentially.
    Clearly the future of satellite technology must include an redundancy package, which enable the object to be de-orbited or ejected well away from the Earth’s gravity field.
    Also the days of launching anything into space should be registered internationally, where contingency plans of the country who launched it have to be assessed and the considered risk exposed for all to see.. (This must be done almost immediately)
    It also means that the days of launching multiple satellites are gone, and instead are joined onto one solitary platform – added and removed as necessary.. Here dedicated service missions can repair multiple satellites all at once, while redundant satellites can be removed as necessary. This will add significantly to the costs of getting vehicles into similar intersecting orbits.
    However, I believe we may have gone past the point of no return already, and that the space orbiting the Earth will be totally unsafe for human occupation and LEO communication for centuries to come.
    But one things for sure, the days of launching satellites willy-nilly are over. Any one that does so will b committing simple vandalism. Pity it wasn’t managed properly in the first place by so many stupid idiotic humans.

  8. Simon says:

    I wonder if it would be possible to use a magnetic field around a satellite to move debris out of harms way.

  9. Oliver X says:

    Simon: imagine the strength of a magnetic field required to deflect something with the kinetic energy of a bullet. Now multiply that by an order of magnitude to account for orbital velocities. And another few orders of magnitude to account for debris that’s much larger than bullet-sized.

    Now consider that magnetic fields aren’t much good for deflecting things unless they happen to be oppositely polarized – not true of random scraps of metal. Great for charged subatomic particles though.

  10. formulaterp says:

    Salacious B. Crumb Says:

    “What effect will this have on observational astronomy?”

    Pretty much … none.

    “the future of satellite technology must include an redundancy package, which enable the object to be de-orbited or ejected well away from the Earth’s gravity field”

    Most already have this capability, to some extent.

    “the days of launching anything into space should be registered internationally … and the considered risk exposed for all to see”

    Especially the spysats right? We should let everyone know where they are at all times.

    “the days of launching multiple satellites are gone”

    Nonsense, it doesn’t lower the risk at all. In fact the additional launches will likely leave even more debris in orbit.

    “dedicated service missions can repair multiple satellites all at once, while redundant satellites can be removed as necessary. This will add significantly to the costs of getting vehicles into similar intersecting orbits.”

    True, it would cost a heck of a lot less to simply launch a replacement satellite. Problem solved.

    “I believe we may have gone past the
    point of no return already, and that the space orbiting the Earth will be totally unsafe for human occupation and LEO communication for centuries to come”

    I guess your centuries to come don’t include this century since NASA doesn’t see any definite risks to the ISS or the shuttle.

  11. Jacques says:

    Every news source says that “NASA will be tracking the 10000+ debris from the collision closely”. Given that NASA can track carefully and precisely so many small debris, why can’t NASA predict large satellites collisions in advance (they are much larger and fewer, with carefully planned orbits…). Could the Iridium satellite have been steer away (even by a small amount)?

  12. dollhopf says:

    Salacious B. Crumb Says: “Clearly the future of satellite technology must include an redundancy package, which enable the object to be de-orbited”

    formulaterp Says:

    “Most already have this capability, to some extent.”

    In my opinion: What a waste!

    I have not computed yet the worth of space “junk”. Also, I know that very much well trained people could do that much easier and much more accurate than I would be ever able to do.

    But for that reason, that neither I nor anybody else ever did an objective as well as visionary analysis, I still have this “vision” (do call me ignorant/arrogant/dreamy therefore – whatever fits to your private mental needs):

    that those once used and thus now exhausted equipment (those more or less undamaged dead satellites and other interesting things) has some incredibly value under certain conditions.

    It is ressource consuming to not only see dead rocks in space but to launch all this hight quality material, devices, tools, means, equipment, modules, whole units … 13,000 objects in orbit at this instant!

    Instead of waisting this precious proofs of brilliance of sientists and engineers after primary use, do conserve them in space for oncoming initiatives!

    Do enforce space “junk” recycling!

  13. Conic says:

    We have known for decades that space junk is a huge problem. Sadly, no one ever does anything about it. The space shuttle, if it had one unique use, was the ability to remove junk from space. I dont see why it doesnt, when ever possible, extend missions to allow the removal of large dead satellites.

  14. dollhopf says:

    Jacques Says:
    February 12th, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Awesome! Thanks for these hints.

  15. maudyfish says:

    If this debry is moving in two directions, how likely is it that it can crash on each other again and again?

  16. Howard Toburen says:

    Possibly another use for the shuttle?

    Bringing back dead satellites in it probably would not be a good idea, but attaching and deploying a conductive line would get them deorbited.

    Using a tethered MMU to net up some might work in a dense debris field. Or not.

  17. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    dollhopf said;

    “(do call me ignorant/arrogant/dreamy therefore – whatever fits to your private mental needs):”

    Why would I ? You are entitled to your valid points of view! (and you are not name calling – unlike some others.)

    I wrote; “Clearly the future of satellite technology must include an redundancy package, which enable the object to be de-orbited.” This has to be done to keep the amount of satellites remaining in orbit at a reasonable number and not to increase it. This would be like an additional rocketry system that change the orbital velocity enough to cause a destructive de-orbit.
    Clearly proactive measures are required, but more often than not, these are not undertaken to reduce costs and the attitude “Oh, we’ll just worry about it later….” It is also interesting that these proactive measures are actually ‘voluntary’ and NOT ‘mandatory’! I.e. Iran launches a satellite, but are they interested in surrounding the safety of its orbital trajectory. (The biggest fear, of course, is a terrorist attack in space – enforcing the dangers of space flight in LEO for ever.)
    Your point of the “value” of the equipment already in orbit is well stated, but the problem is that the redundant satellites etc. in orbit are really like high-velocity bullets, whose catastrophic collisions make deadly shrapnel.
    The real question is; Is it preferable to have an environment that is safely accessible or one where it is dangerous to venture at all? Clearly there must be some crossover point – it s obvious we are are already or have reached that point of know return.
    How sad will it be to know that humankind cannot venture in LEO because of our humankind’s own stupidity?

    Your point is valid about the value of the things already in orbit, but what more valuable, the craft or the environment???

    Note: The dream I always have is that a manned mission is taken out in orbit, killing all aboard, and knowing that their bodies are orbiting the Earth with no chance of recovery because of the debris field that surrounds them . Not a comfortable thought is it?

  18. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    I just recalled an article by Tammy Plotner on this very subject at Universe Today, which will greatly aid the discussion here…

    On 27th September 2008, she said;

    “Is returning “space junk” a problem? You bet. In a very comprehensive article done by Nancy a few months ago called Space Debris Illustrated: The Problem in Pictures, she clearly illustrated how spent booster stages and discards from spacecraft could turn into a serious problem for future spaceflight if left unmonitored and uncontrolled. While the Russian return was expected, it’s still just another indicator of a mounting problem – inactive space hardware in orbit around the Earth .
    According to NASA Shuttle program director John Shannon, “Next month’s shuttle flight to the Hubble Space Telescope faces an increased risk of getting hit by space junk because it will be in a higher, more littered orbit than usual. New number-crunching puts the odds of a catastrophic strike by orbital debris including bits of space junk at about 1-in-185 during Atlantis’ upcoming mission to Hubble. That compares to 1-in-300 odds for a shuttle flight to the International Space Station.” ”

    .. and some here suggest catastrophe won’t happen???

    Someone in all Government(s) has to wake up to the problem and start to take this as really serious priority..

  19. Frank Glover says:

    “The space shuttle, if it had one unique use, was the ability to remove junk from space. I dont see why it doesnt, when ever possible, extend missions to allow the removal of large dead satellites.”

    The vast majority of them will be in orbits far too different from whatever the original purpose of the shuttle launch was (and other than the last Hubble upgrade, that would only be to service ISS).

    There’s also no safe (to those living downrange) means to launch the shuttle to polar orbit for objects there, even if you wanted to.

    In other words, it would almost never be possible to get a sat you wern’t already planning to reach.

    And then there’s the legal issue of ‘removing’ a dead satellite that belongs to someone other than the US…

  20. dollhopf says:

    According to the German Federal Statistical Office, 4970 died in road accidents. A complete small town! Despite this murderous figure, 4970 times sorrow and misery, road traffic will not be shut down but further on administered on a high level. Preventive measures, emergency services, vehicle insurances are established, criminal and civil law are applied. This is the standard. It is practised worldwide.

    Rules and precautions, administration and enforcement are well known and practised also in international affairs.

    Official and private business in earth orbit also need laws, order and brain to keep it going.

  21. dollhopf says:

    “And then there’s the legal issue of ‘removing’ a dead satellite that belongs to someone other than the US…”

    yes, exactly! It is a complex situation with mulitple aspects and a wide range of consequences.

    Standards must be enforced.

    Otherwise the earth orbit might turn into a debris field, ending or costly impacting human access to space.

    Also, because nobody can disprove it, we should strive to establish precautions and concepts for the further use of already used up (in hindsight of a possible secontary purpose) hight tech equipment in earth orbit. It would establish a basis for innovation, new perspectives and economical initiative in space business.

    All I want you to not ignore is the fact that one kilogram of artificial debris in space required $20,000 to put it there. Every single piece of human-made shit in orbit already was “ennobled” just by the hight transport costs. Think rational! Begin to exploit it!

  22. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    dollhoph and Frank.
    Exactly, and I do wholeheartedly agree. It is a worldwide problem and no just one country or another. At least NASA and the U.S. at least has a policy (unlike others)… But still even those measure still need far more stringent application. (As someone else said here about the military satellites, but for me it is more worrying about there intentions – which are based solely on trust and much better desire of expediency.)

  23. dollhopf says:

    I did say that every single piece of human-made shit in orbit already was “ennobled” just by the hight transport costs and that the approach to space should be more rational and finally begin to exploit this.

    I did not mean to simply grasp for debris. In the back of our heads the idea could arise that already the design and manufacturing of anyone’s and everybody’s space hardware here on earth could bear in mind its further reuseability (and thus also selling-on! – in the end, this also would lower the costs for transportation).

  24. Robb Gravely says:

    this seems like a great opportunity for a startup for space junk removal. A huge carbon fiber net to collect space junk and bring it down or burn it up in the atmosphere. I am available if anyone wants to hire me…Robb

  25. dollhopf says:

    “A huge carbon fiber net to collect space junk and bring it down or burn it up in the atmosphere.”

    Dear Robb Gravely,

    if your idea would be a practicable method, then the Strategic Defense Initiative would already have adopted it long ago. They did not.

  26. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    dollhopf said at February 13th, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    “…if your idea would be a practicable method, then the Strategic Defense Initiative would already have adopted it long ago. They did not.”

    You might have argued this exact point before a few month ago, I think, while it is true this would not work for a satellite in an independent orbit, it would be practical for a dropped object from say from the IIS. I.e. When the controversial toolkit bag was dropped by a U.S. woman astronaut in orbit while doing a space walk some months back.
    Whether the Strategic Defense Initiative agreed to it or not, clearing orbital junk by some method might soon be needed. Clearly if SDI did agree to it, the cost in doing so would be prohibitive.
    At least Robb in his defence at least said “this seems like…” – which is little hard to bear the harsher criticism of; “They did not.”

  27. Mr. Obvious says:

    Before you talk badly to scientists, governments etc. about how poorly they are handling this problem, please increase your education on orbital dynamics, and also think about your uneducated proposal for 10 minutes before entering them into this blog.

    For those who want to put huge requirements on satellites to ensure they won’t be a problem in the future… think about how much science would be lost, or lives lost because the cost of launching satellites would become so high, there would hardly be any launched.
    Then there is the cost to economies around the world, due to lost communication abilities. Think about this the next time you use your credit/debit card.

    There is no easy way to solve this problem. If there was, it would be done.

  28. dollhopf says:

    please increase your education on orbital dynamics

    A good proposal. I agree. But what to you think that John F. Kennedy did know about orbital dynamics when he held his speech on September 12, 1962?

  29. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    Mr Oblivious said ;
    “… please increase your education on orbital dynamics,”

    How absolutely stupid are you?
    Clearly, what is more important, launching satellites or the environment in which they orbit?
    Perhaps the economics of not being able to occupy LEO at all are preferable?
    As for having “no easy way to solve this problem”, isn’t because of logistics but desire to fix it!
    Bamboozle bloggers with nonsense is oblivious as your multiple avatar? Idjit! WAKE UP!!1

  30. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    Mr. Oblivious said;
    “Before you talk badly to scientists, governments etc. about how poorly they are handling this problem, please increase your education on orbital dynamics, and also think about your uneducated proposal for 10 minutes before entering them into this blog.”

    What about your own “education on orbital dynamic” ? All I see is that you bicker about what other say and yet you say nothing yourself. If you are such an “expert” that elaborate on your point of view based on your expertise! Else I suggest you keep in silence.

  31. dollhopf says:

    Robb Gravely Says:
    February 13th, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    a huge carbon fiber net to collect space junk

    But if the ability to stop and collect projectiles hitting with a speed of several dozen kilometers an hour were intrinsic to carbon fiber, then nobody would need to worry about space debris because they just needed to revet satellites, shuttles and space suits with a shielding layer of carbon fiber. They did not.

  32. dollhopf says:

    Upps …

    I wanted to write “several dozen megameters” (among others)

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