Another cloud of Russian space debris has blossomed into orbit.

An object in Earth orbit, cataloged as # 32398, disintegrated on April 15, the 18th Space Defense Squadron of the United States Space Force tweeted on Tuesday (May 3). Sixteen pieces of space debris related to the event are currently being tracked, the squadron added.

Object № 32398 was an empty spacecraft engine that helped deliver three Russian GLONASS satellites into orbit in 2007, according to journalist and author Anatoly Zak, which manages (GLONASS is the Russian version of the GPS navigation system.)

These GLONASS spacecraft took off on a Russian Proton rocket, the upper stage of which had two small uncharged engines, according to astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell, based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Ullage engines accelerate their main rocket stages slightly to ensure that accelerator fuel is positioned correctly in the engine’s restart tanks in orbit, McDowell explained. a series of tweets on Tuesday. (After all, you can’t rely on gravity to pull fuel down toward the engine.)

These top-level proton engines are known as SOZ engines and there are currently 64 of them in Earth orbit, McDowell tweeted. The acronym stands for “Start-up Security System,” which roughly translates to “Startup Assurance System,” he said.

“SOZ engines don’t use up all their fuel when they fire. And they have the unfortunate tendency to break down years or decades later, leaving a pile of debris in a highly elliptical orbit. At least 54 SOZ engines have now exploded. ” McDowell tweeted.

The SOZ engine, which just exploded, raced around the Earth on a highly elliptical path, approaching 241 miles (388 kilometers) and 11,852 miles (19,074 kilometers), McDowell said. another tweetnoting that “the debris will take a long time to re-enter.”

“So – this event of debris was predictable and well understood; still very unfortunate ” he wrote.

Space debris is a growing problem for satellite operators and planning missions. IN Evaluation by the European Space Agency (ESA). that about 36,500 pieces of debris at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) wide currently revolve around the Earth. And Earth’s orbit probably contains about 1 million objects with a diameter between 0.4 inches and 4 inches (1 to 10 cm), according to ESA.

Russia added to the population of debris with a widely condemned anti-satellite (ASAT) test in November 2021, the nation destroyed one of its own non-existent rocket satellites, creating a new field of debris in the same orbital neighborhood as the International Space Station (ISS). ISS operators had to burn engines to avoid Russian debris from ASAT.

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