Chinese satellite Yunhai 1-02 and Russian debris collide in orbit

Chinese satellite Yunhai 1-02 and Russian debris collide in orbit

Last March, the Chinese military satellite Yunhai 1-02 suffered a very serious failure, without the cause of it being possible, at first, to discover. Cause that was, shortly after, identified with the collision of some Russian space debris against the Chinese satellite. In practice, a concrete sign that the human presence leaves a concrete mark everywhere, even in orbit.

depiction of debris currently in orbit

On March 22, a tweet from the 18th Space Control Squadron of the US Space Force, announced a failure aboard the Yunhai 1-02 satellite, launched into orbit by the People's Republic in September 2019. The failure on Yunhai 1-02 had occurred four days earlier, with no apparent known cause, and had originated as many as 21 new solid bodies (debris) orbiting, immediately placed under observation by the Space Force.

The damage, or even the destruction, of an orbiting satellite is not a common occurrence, but not even too remote. In 2016, for example, Japan's Hitomi satellite went out of control due to human errors and poor software, eventually being destroyed. And this is definitely nothing, compared to the unfortunate episode that saw the ISS as protagonist, (whose LEGO kit is available at this link) after the thrusters of the Russian Nauka module activated at full power after the shuttle had already completed the docking maneuver at the station.

Another concrete possibility is that the Yunhai 1-02 satellite was deliberately destroyed. In 2007, China shot down a weather satellite that is no longer functional with an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT). The event created hundreds of new orbiting debris, arousing considerable concern in the international community. India implemented a similar thing in 2019, in turn causing further stray debris formation.

A collision with stray debris could then explain the damage to Yunhai 1 -02 and, once again, there is a precedent for this hypothesis as well. In 2009, the communications satellite Iridium 33 collided with Kosmos-2251, a Russian military communications satellite now out of service. NASA described the incident as "the most severe accidental fragmentation ever recorded," as the collision produced more than 1,800 pieces of "space junk" larger than 10 centimeters.

According to Jonathan McDowell, a researcher of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a similar fate would have happened to Yunhai 1-02, in which a piece of space junk would have crashed into the Chinese satellite. McDowell argues that the "responsible" for this incident could be the debris swarm composed of the remains of the Russian Zenit-2 carrier, which brought the Tselina-2 electronic surveillance satellite into orbit in 1996. An initial analysis of the data showed that Yunhai 1-02 and the Russian space debris in question passed within 1 km of each other on March 18, exactly when the 18th Space Control Squadron detected the fault in the Chinese satellite. The definitive dynamics of the accident are still not clear to anyone. At the moment. Who knows if both parties are insured…

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