NOAA forecasting satellite that has been decommissioned has broken up


A decommissioned polar-orbiting weather satellite has split up, leading to the increasing debris community in a critical orbit. The 18th Space Control Squadron of the United States Space Force reported on March 18 that the NOAA-17 satellite had broken up on March 10. The squadron stated it was monitoring 16 fragments of debris connected to the satellite, and there was no proof of a crash triggering the breakup.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the satellite had split up in a report to SpaceNews on March 19, after NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office informed them of the event. The debris presents no danger to International Space Station or even any other sensitive space facilities at this moment, according to NOAA.

The spacecraft, named NOAA-M at the time, was deployed in 2002 June. The spaceship was planned to last 3-years, but it was used as a main or replacement for almost 11 years until being decommissioned by NOAA in 2013 April. NOAA or other authorities have not revealed the origin of the split. NOAA-17, on the other hand, is identical to the other polar-orbiting satellites which have broken up. The NOAA-15 satellite was decommissioned in 2015 November, about a year and a half after it was shut down due to an “essential anomaly.” DMSP F-13 as well as DMSP F-12, two satellites in Air Force’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, split up in February 2015 as well as October 2016, respectively.

The loss of DMSP F-13 was due to a battery design error that was also observed on the other DMSP satellites. Lockheed Martin designed those satellites, as well as NOAA-15 as well as NOAA-17. NOAA-17 was decommissioned in the year 2013, and the spacecraft underwent a “deactivation operation,” according to NOAA. NOAA stated in a report to the SpaceNews that the procedure involved disconnecting the spaceship’s batteries, releasing thruster valves, and shutting off its transmitters. “These measures were taken to guarantee the satellite remained as inert as practicable during decommissioning and to reduce the possibility of radio frequency collision with other spacecraft,” according to NOAA.

The federal government also proposed that satellites be passivated at the conclusion of their lives, eliminating energy sources that might cause fires. The Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices manual says that “all onboard sources of storage energy of a spaceship or upper stage must be exhausted or potentially saved when they are no longer needed for flight operations or even post-mission disposal.”

And after adopting those best practices, a satellite will nevertheless split up, showing the guidelines’ drawbacks. “I have no question NOAA did all they could, and I believe this is more of a case of a legacy satellite that was planned before we became concerned with debris mitigation,” stated Brian Weeden. He works as a director in charge of the program planning at Secure World Foundation.
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