Images, Video, Interactive Tools Provide Insight into Satellite Collision

by Nancy Atkinson on February 12, 2009

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.

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