Visualizations show the extensive cloud of debris Russia’s anti-satellite test created

Visualizations show cloud debris Russia's antisatellite test

According to the report of, trackers of satellites have been working nonstop to determine how much hazardous debris Russia produced when it destroyed one of its satellites. The 4,410-pound Cosmos 1408 satellite, launched in 1982, was deliberately destroyed by Russia’s anti-satellite, or ASAT, on November 15, 2021, because it was no longer functional. Numerous visualizations show cloud debris Russia’s antisatellite test will likely pose a long-term threat to other spacecraft in orbit.

According to the US State Department, the satellite’s fragmentation left behind thousands of smaller, untraceable parts in addition to at least 1,500 trackable shards. All of those parts are still in low Earth orbit, travelling at thousands of kilometres per hour and endangering anyone that might come into contact with them.

At first, the debris cloud from the satellite even passed by the International Space Station a couple of times, forcing the crew members to take cover in their spacecraft.

The severity of the crisis won’t be completely understood for weeks or perhaps months, but preliminary satellite tracker visualizations of the ASAT test reveal a massive trail of space debris left in the wake of the split. In orbit, the pieces resemble a spotted serpent that is expanding out and travelling nearly in the same direction as Kosmos 1408 did when it circled the Earth. The visualizers all agree on one thing, though: this serpent of trash is not going anywhere any time soon.

According to LeoLabs, a private space tracking company in the US reported in their blog that “For the majority of satellites in [low Earth orbit], the disintegration of Cosmos 1408 over the following few years to decades will pose some small but possible collision danger”.

Visualizations show extensive cloud debris test created by the Russian anti-satellite test against Cosmos 1408 in LEO (low Earth orbit) causing alarm to the ISS crew, satellite operators, and spacefaring nations.

Cosmos 1408 —also spelt Kosmos 1408 which is a Soviet ELINT (Electronic and Signals Intelligence) was launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome on September 16, 1982. Its purpose was to pinpoint the precise location, nature, and other characteristics of radio emitters. At the time, Cosmos 1408 was orbiting the Earth at a distance of about 300 miles, and it produced a debris field between 270 and 320 miles from the surface( source; NASA).

Normally, the International Space Station (ISS) orbits the Earth at a height of around 260 miles, but on Monday, it was 250 miles higher, so the debris crossed its path by a distance of almost 20 miles.

Houston Mission Control, on the other hand, gave the order to the ISS astronauts to enter the ship’s escape pods to find safety.

Space junk, also known as space debris, is made up of abandoned launch vehicles or pieces of spacecraft that drift around in space hundreds of miles above the Earth and put satellites or space stations in danger of collision.

Debris may also result from a space explosion or from nations testing missiles with the intention of using them to knowingly destroy their own satellites.

In addition to Russia, China, the US, and India have also shot down satellites, leaving a vast space debris track that rounds the Earth.

According to, to demonstrate or test technological capabilities or for strategic goals, kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) tests are typically conducted against objects in orbit, according to a statement from the organization.

The long-term viability of space activities and our space infrastructure, including the lives of those aboard the International Space Station (ISS), are in danger as a result of tests that result in the generation of space debris.

The Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) network of the European Union and the space software provider AGI have developed two visualizations that show what probably occurred in the first instant of impact when Russia’s missile intercepted Kosmos 1408.

Both of these demonstrate how the debris cloud expanded rapidly into space. The simulation from AGI also demonstrates how close the cloud is to colliding with the International Space Station, supporting NASA’s concerns and the organization’s choice to have the crew take cover.


Hugh Lewis, an engineering professor at the University of Southampton who specializes in space debris, has generated yet another visualization that demonstrates just how widely the Kosmos 1408 debris has dispersed in orbit. Lewis adds that each of the shards formed when the Russian missile struck the satellite received a small kick, propelling them to higher and lower altitudes. The speed of each piece varies according to the height of its orbit.

Despite the fact that they all begin their journey at the same moment, Lewis tells The Verge that the objects in larger orbits travel around the Earth more slowly than those in smaller orbits. “So the ones in the lower orbits appear to move in front of the ones in the higher orbits. And that’s what makes it longer.

Lewis predicts that the cloud will keep changing over time. While the debris particles in higher orbits will remain in space for a much longer period, those in lower orbits will fall to Earth and exit their orbit more swiftly.

Given the size of Kosmos 1408 and the physics of a missile striking a satellite, simulations of where we think these pieces of debris might be are what Lewis’ visualization is currently based on. However, as the test’s real-world data trickles in, the visualization will start to look more realistic. The US Space Command is in charge of tracking objects in space, but it hasn’t yet made any of the ASAT test’s tracks public.

Our best chance of tracking this stuff comes from a variety of sensors, ranging from optical telescopes to ground-based radar stations. However, it will undoubtedly take some time before even the most advanced trackers get a complete picture of the situation.

LeoLabs, in contrast, said in a blog post that it has already determined the pathways for nearly 300 test fragments, most likely the largest bits from the breakdown. The corporation states that within the next five years, the objects in lower orbits should re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up.

The higher orbiting pieces, though, might spend years in orbit. The risk they pose to the space station and other satellites will only increase as all of these satellite pieces degrade in orbit over time. A working satellite could be destroyed with just one collision with a piece of fast-moving debris.

Lewis asserts that “this is not going to be a temporary problem.” It will have an impact on space activities at least for the next ten years.

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