Zenit rocket debris hits Chinese satellite

(18 Aug 2021) China's Yunhai 1-02 satellite was damaged on 18 March 2021, apparently by a piece of a fragmented Zenit-2 rocket that launched a Tselina-2 electronic spy satellite in September 1996.

The U.S. Space Force's 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS) said that analysis was "ongoing" on the 21 associated pieces that were broken off the Yunhai satellite, which originally launched in September 2019. It was speculated that part of the craft could have exploded, but it is now known it was hit by a part of debris that came from the Zenit-2 rocket.

Between 1997 and 2021, eight debris objects were tracked from the rocket. This that hit the Yunhai satellite was added to the spacecraft catalogue in March 2021 under the NORAD ID 48078, and has only a single element set with an epoch of 16 March 2021.

"A quick analysis of the TLEs show that Yunhai 1-02 (NORAD 44547) and [the debris object] passed within 1 km of each other (so within the uncertainty of the TLEs) at 0741 UTC Mar 18, exactly when 18SPCS reports Yunhai broke up," said Jonathan McDowell, Astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University. He added that this "looks to be the first major confirmed orbital collision in a decade."

The Yunhai satellite remains under control and can still adjust its orbit and remains able to send orbital signals, so the collision did not destroy it.

"It's a moderately big deal," Dr. McDowell said. "It shows that these smaller non-catastrophic collisions are becoming a thing – we will see more and more of them."

Reference: Business Insider, iTech, The Independent

#collision  #debris  #Tselina  #Yunhai