ASAT Weapon Interception Debris Field

On November 15, 2021, Russia launched a Nudol ASAT weapon system to intercept and destroy a defunct, on-orbit COSMOS 1408 — a Soviet Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) satellite launched in 1982. The resulting orbital debris increases the risk of launching and operating spacecraft.

To understand the impact of this event, our partners at COMSPOC modeled it with Systems Tool Kit (STK). The latest version of STK with the Operator’s Toolbox plugin includes a Debris Generator which is specifically designed to simulate these unfortunate incidents and other rapidly-evolving threats. You can download Operators Toolbox for STK here.

The debris data is notional but accurate enough for a realistic understanding of the impact. Using Russia's publicly available NOTAM information, the COMSPOC team assumed an approximate intercept time and location to create a simplistic model of a ballistic interceptor launched from the ground. Based on the interceptor trajectory, the velocity between the ASAT and COSMOS wasn’t enough for a catastrophic collision.

Even so, there are now an estimated 1,500 pieces of trackable fragments from the collision; an estimate with the potential to increase to up to 3,000 as more information becomes available. While some elements of the engagement are unclear, the overall fragmentation, debris cloud, and severity of the event is accurately depicted through simulation.

And this isn’t the first time this has happened.

In 2007, the Chinese launched an ASAT that created a debris cloud of 517 pieces.

And in 2009, an Iridium satellite accidentally collided with a Russian COSMOS satellite, creating over 3,000 pieces of trackable debris.

It might be months before the United States Air Force releases the full dataset of the trackable debris from this event, but there are likely thousands of untrackable, deadly pieces of debris.


Systems Tool Kit (STK)

Modeling and simulation software for digital mission engineering and systems analysis.