Fengyun 1C Debris Collided with BLITS Satellite

BLITS was composed of a high refractivity inner sphere and low refractivity outer sphere. It had an outer diameter of 17 cm (Credits: ILRS).

BLITS was composed of a high refractivity inner sphere and low refractivity outer sphere. It had an outer diameter of 17 cm (Credits: ILRS).

A release from AGI concludes that a change in orbit and spin period for the active Russian BLITS satellite reported on February 4 is due to collision with a piece of Chinese ASAT debris from Fengyun 1C.

The change was observed by Institute for Precision Instrument Engineering (IPIE) scientists Dr. Vasiliy Yurasov and Dr. Andrey Nazarenko. They recorded a sudden decrease in semi-major axis of 120 m and decrease in spin period from 5.6 seconds to 2.1 seconds. The scientists estimate that the change occurred on January 22 at 0308 UTC. Checking in with AGI’s Center for Space Standards & Innovation (CSSI), they found only one close approach that occurred near that time. A tracked piece of Fengyun 1C was expected to pass within 3.1 km of BLITS within 10 seconds of the observed trajectory change. Given the available data, CSSI technical program manager Dr. T.S. Kelso concluded that the two bodies must have been closer than anticipated. The Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) apparently agrees: it released the first two line elements (TLE) for BLITS debris on March 3.

Even if the collision had been predicted, no preventative measures would have been possible. BLITS is a passive nanosatellite without propulsive capability.

BLITS, for Ball Lens in the Space, was a retroreflector satellite designed to obtain Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) data and verify the spherical glass retroreflector satellite concept. The satellite launched in June 2009 and was expected to have a mission life of five years. The satellite is now in at least two pieces. Laser tracking has been lost.

Fengyun 1C was a defunct Chinese satellite when China performed an anti-satellite (ASAT) test on January 11, 2007 that splintered the spacecraft into approximately 3000 pieces of orbital debris.

Below, a model of the Fengyun 1C and BLITS collision:



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Merryl Azriel

Merryl Azriel

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Having wandered into professional writing and editing after a decade in engineering, science, and management, Merryl now enjoys reintegrating the dichotomy by bringing space technology and policy within reach of an interested public. After three years as Space Safety Magazine’s Managing Editor, Merryl semi-retired to Visiting Contributor and manager of the campaign to bring the International Space Station collaboration to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee. She keeps her pencil sharp as Proposal Manager for U.S. government contractor CSRA.