Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologie dell'Informazione     
Pardini C., Anselmo L. Assessment of the consequences of the fengyun-1c breakup in low earth orbit. In: 37th COSPAR Scientific Assembly (Montréal, Canada, 13-20 July 2008).
On 11 January 2007, the 880 kg (958 kg at launch) weather spacecraft Fengyun-1C, launched on 10 May 1999 into a sun-synchronous orbit with a CZ-4B booster from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, was destroyed over central China as a result of the first successful Chinese anti-satellite weapon test. It was carried out with a direct ascent interception with a kinetic energy kill vehicle launched by an SC-19 missile, fired from a mobile ground platform close to the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. While the technical details of the test, probably the third attempt, and the characteristics of the weapon used remain shrouded in secrecy, the intentional breakup of the aging weather spacecraft, fully functional until 2005, produced a huge amount of debris in one of the orbital regimes already most affected by past fragmentation events. At present, the US Space Surveillance Network has identified about 2600 objects, typically larger than 10 cm, but the fragments larger than 1 cm may be more than 100,000. After two decades of substantial international progress in the field of orbital debris mitigation, in order to preserve the low Earth and geosynchronous environments for future space missions, the Fengyun-1C destruction represented a serious turnabout. In fact, it abruptly increased by approximately 20% the number of cataloged debris in orbit. To give a rough idea of the impact of this single event on the circumterrestrial environment, it is sufficient to realize that about 15 years of global space activity - including failures and accidental breakups - had been needed to increase, by a comparable amount, the number of cataloged debris in orbit to the level observed before the Chinese anti-satellite test. The purpose of this presentation is to assess the impact of the debris cloud generated by the Fengyun-1C breakup on the low Earth environment. The anti-satellite test was carried out at an altitude of about 863 km, spreading the cataloged fragments between 200 and 4000 km, with maximum concentration around the breakup height. The environmental impact was particularly significant in all the altitude range between 700 and 1000 km, where the debris density due to past space activities was already at worrisome levels. Considering the inclination, nearly polar, and the height of the target, such a deliberate act of debris generation was therefore one of worst conceivable with current technology and its consequences will unfortunately be felt for many decades.
Subject Fengyun-1C breakup
ASAT tests
Fragmentation events in low Earth orbit
Debris cloud evolution
J.2 Physical Sciences and Engineering
70F15 Celestial mechanics

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