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DMSP satellite's break-up linked to battery failure

24 July 2015

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Investigators have traced the cause of an in-space disintegration of a U.S. Air Force weather satellite in February to a battery fault and identified six other spacecraft in orbit prone to the same failure.

Engineers originally suspected the polar-orbiting satellite's power system was to blame for the 3 Feb. explosion, which littered low Earth orbit with 147 objects ranging from the size of a baseball to the size of a basketball, according to an Air Force press release.

A report from engineers investigating the break-up of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13, or DMSP F13, spacecraft revealed the probable cause of the failure was a compromised wiring harness inside a battery charger aboard the satellite. The report also detailed how satellite controllers on the ground responded to the mishap and decommissioned the weather observatory within hours, preventing the potential release of more debris.

Although the objects large enough to be tracked by U.S. military radars number in the hundreds, researchers from the University of Southampton studying the accident say the rupture generated more than 50,000 fragments larger than 1 millimetre, many of which will remain in orbit for many decades.

Source: Spaceflight Now

Image credit: U.S. Air Force - Artist's concept of DMSP satellite

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