Images, Video, Interactive Tools Provide Insight into Satellite Collision

by Nancy Atkinson on February 12, 2009

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

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


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

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

dollhopf February 13, 2009 at 3:27 PM

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.

dollhopf February 13, 2009 at 4:08 PM

“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!

Salacious B. Crumb February 13, 2009 at 4:10 PM

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.)

dollhopf February 13, 2009 at 4:31 PM

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).

Robb Gravely February 13, 2009 at 4:37 PM

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

dollhopf February 13, 2009 at 4:51 PM

“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.

Salacious B. Crumb February 13, 2009 at 5:24 PM

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.”

Mr. Obvious February 14, 2009 at 6:26 AM

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.

dollhopf February 14, 2009 at 11:59 AM

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?

Salacious B. Crumb February 14, 2009 at 10:47 PM

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

Salacious B. Crumb February 14, 2009 at 11:31 PM

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.

dollhopf February 15, 2009 at 1:00 AM

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.

dollhopf February 16, 2009 at 8:04 AM

Upps …

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

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