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NORSS Analysis of the Russian Anti-Satellite Missile Test Event


In the early hours of Monday 15/11/2021 a Russian direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) weapons test occurred, reportedly testing the PL-19 Nudol surface-to-space missile from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The event destroyed a Russian Tselina-D SIGINT satellite, Cosmos-1408 (NORAD: 13552, INT DES: 1982-092A), at an altitude of approximately 500km with a substantial spread as visualised in the gabbard plot shown in Figure 1. This poses a significant risk in a congested orbit with many high-value assets and human spaceflight activities including both the International Space Station (ISS) and the Tiangong space station; reports indicate that crew on the ISS were instructed to prepare for impact shortly after the event.

Large space debris creating events present a long-lived and dangerous threat to space operations; gathering an early understanding of the potential impact and risk allows for informed and timely decision making for other operators in the area. NORSS analysts evaluated the situation and found from an initial assessment that over 1500 trackable pieces of space debris were likely to have been created by the event, with a worst-case projected estimate of 1561 additional fragments in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 1 – Gabbard plot of the COSMOS 1408 DA-ASAT 15/11/2021
Figure 2 – Initial modelling of the debris field generated by the Russian DA-ASAT 15/11/2021
Figure 3 –  Visualisation of the current catalogued space debris generated by COSMOS 1408

As of 2nd December, 18 SPCS has released element sets for 200+ pieces of COSMOS-1408 debris to, the NORSS HIVE analyst team have produced a visualisation of the debris as of 06/12/2021 as shown in Figure 3. Without doubt there are many more pieces to be catalogued with the USSF applying significant rigour to ensure the process of cataloguing is completed as timely as possible. It is worth noting that it took the then JSpOC almost 2 years to catalogue all the debris from the Iridium – Cosmos collision.

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