The US Air Force confirmed late last month that a “catastrophic event” led to the downing of a weather satellite.
The satellite, previously used by the US military, exploded into 43 pieces.
Army engineers suggest a temperature spike disrupted the bearings of the satellites and caused Weather Satellite Program Flight 13 (DMSP-F13) to lose altitude control.
The oldest in the Army’s fleet of weather satellites, DMSP-F13 was mostly decommissioned in 2006 – still collecting data in a backup role, but not involved in long-term modeling . Air Force officials said its loss would have minimal effects on their operations and forecasting capabilities.
“Because this satellite was no longer in use by the National Weather Service or the Air Force Weather Agency, the impact of the loss of this satellite is minimal,” Air Force weather program officials said. “We expect that real-time weather data for tactical users will be slightly reduced without this satellite, but its data was not used for weather forecast modeling.”
Still, Air Force scientists will continue to investigate the details of the event to prevent similar and costly disasters in the future.
The 43 pieces will likely continue to orbit Earth before eventually being pulled back into the atmosphere by the planet’s gravity. Although the possibility of space junk crossing paths with other satellites exists, at this point engineers are quite skilled at maneuvering space vehicles out of harm’s way. There are currently 21,000 pieces of space junk measuring 4 inches or larger orbiting Earth.
-Meteorologist Al Conklin