A Russian satellite has broken up in orbit, causing more than 80 pieces of potentially dangerous space debris.

“18 SDS has confirmed the breakup of COSMOS 2499 (#39765, 2014-028E) - occurred Jan 4, 2023 at appx 0357 UTC,” the US 18th Space Defense Squadron tweeted this week. “Tracking 85 associated pieces at estimated 1169 km (726mi) altitude - analysis ongoing.”

– Getty Images

18 SDS tracks man-made objects in Earth orbit and provides information about potential collisions and near misses (known as conjunction events).

The cause of the breakup is unclear. Satellite and space debris tracking firm LeoLabs said: “Our *preliminary* analysis of the Cosmos 2499 fragmentation event (using LeoLabs LeoRisk) points toward a low-intensity explosion with moderate confidence.”

“The indication toward a low-intensity explosion is due to the asymmetry of the debris cloud, magnitude of the velocity imparted to the fragments, and a known energetic source on board (i.e. the propulsion system). An identical spacecraft, Cosmos 2491, exploded in 2020 — that event has been attributed to an explosion of the propulsion system.”

Cosmos/Kosmos 2499 was a Russian satellite unexpectedly launched in 2014. It wasn’t on the launch manifest and was originally classed as debris until it began making manoeuvrers.

The satellite, estimated to be less than one meter in length, was known to make unusual orbits including the tailing of its discarded rocket-stage, leading some to claim it was a prototype anti-satellite weapon.

The Russian government never outlines what the satellite’s mission was, beyond saying they were peaceful. An article published on the official Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology website previously described 2499 as designed to test experimental plasma propulsion engines/ion thrusters.

The machine had been inactive since 2017. In December 2021, USSPACECOM cataloged 18 pieces of debris associated with Cosmos 2499.

The 85 new pieces of debris could take more than 100 years to de-orbit due to their high altitude.

Arabsat confirms BADR-6 satellite failure

This week also saw Arabsat confirm its BADR-6 satellite has failed.

Launched in 2008, the satellite suffered the outage on February 6 and has moved customers onto nearby satellites. Technicians at Arabsat reportedly attempted but failed to restart operations on the satellite.

The company currently operates the BADR-4, 5, 5A, 5C, 6A, and 7 satellites. Arabsat-6E is planned in future.

In a statement, Arabsat said: “Arabsat experts and its engineering team immediately engaged with customers and smoothly implemented a restoration plan to bring DTH services back successfully. With state-of-the-art technology and backup solutions, Arabsat always assures service reliability to the end users with high standards, we express regret for the disruption of our customers' and viewers' experience.”

Built by EADS Astrium and Alcatel Space with 24-C-band and 16 Ku-band transponders, the satellites providing services across the Middle East and North Africa.

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