Paris: The European Space Agency’s (ESA) said its Earth-observing Sentinel-1A satellite barely escaped a “high-risk collision” from a 2021 Russian missile test that had generated over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris in space.
ESA’s Sentinel-1 mission is designed as a two-satellite constellation, which provides an all-weather, day-and-night supply of imagery of Earth’s surface.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, the ESA officials said Sentinel-1A, launched in April 2014, had to perform a set of emergency manoeuvres on Monday to avoid a “high-risk collision.”
“On Monday, for the first time, we performed a set of manoeuvres to avoid a high-risk collision with #SpaceDebris created in the #Cosmos1408 anti-satellite test last year,” ESA Operations said.
The agency noted that although its part of their routine work, yet this “was a difficult #CollisionAvoidance manoeuvre”, “unique” as well as “tricky to avoid” because the situation evolved rapidly, and they had less than 24 hours of warning.
Even though the Russian satellite orbited more than 200 km below Sentinel-1A, the energy released during its explosion pushed fragments of it all the way up, intersecting the satellite’s orbit.
As a result, the team said Sentinal-1A had to alter its orbit “by 140 m in order to prevent collision with a debris fragment”.
Though the Sentinel-1A is safe for now, the ESA called out against the threat due to such space debris.
“Quick reaction by teams at #MissionControl, who managed to plan and execute an avoidance manoeuvre in a matter of hours, meant we safely avoided impact,” they said.
“This incident highlights the devastating risks to the whole space environment from the (intentional) creation of space debris,” they added.
In November 2021, Russia fired a direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile that collided with its defunct satellite, generating hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris, or space junk. The DA-ASAT test also posed risk to the International Space Station, at that time prompting an outrage by the US.
According to the US Department of State, the anti-satellite test generated over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris that now threaten the interests of all nations.
“…I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilising action. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson had said condemning the act.