Geoff FordenYaogan 1 Erupts

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The first three pieces of debris cataloged from the Yaogan 1 breakup are shown. The approximate time of the incident (2/4/10 at 6:49 UTC) was determined by “backtracking” the pieces. The fact that the debris and the remainder of the satellite do not exactly “match up” indicates errors associated with the orbital measurements.

Yaogan 1, a Chinese Earth Observation Satellite, erupted into multiple pieces last week. By back-tracking the pieces, I believe the date and time of the incident was February 4, 2010 at about 6:49 UTC. It is interesting to note that the maximum difference in orbital speeds is about 22 m/s. That can be compared with the hundreds of meters per second typical in a collision. Judging by past experience, a few more pieces of debris will be cataloged in the days to come. Yaogan 1 would have been four years old this April (launch date: 27 April 2006).

Just to be complete, there is no indication that this was anything other than an internal explosion. While the original satellite might appear in this particular view to be over China at the time of the incident, it is actually well over the Ocean.


  1. 3.1415 (History)

    Will some of the debris fall down? Is there any type of fuel like hydrazine on this kind of satellite? Let’s hope that the possible fuel won’t become an excuse to shoot down the satellite. President Obama is going to meet His Holiness soon.

  2. Allen Thomson (History)

    22 m/s (50 mph) also doesn’t sound like the ill-timed firing of a self-destruct charge. Likely a battery or some other moderately pressurized component burst.

  3. MJS (History)

    The debris will fall down, but not anytime soon. The orbit is high enough that it will take some time for the pieces to decay. There’s no (unclass) word on what type of thrusters/propulsion are used, as far as i know.

    Preliminary analysis points to a propulsion failure as the reason for the breakup. I note 3 newly catalog-able debris piece.

  4. Wang Ting

    This the first Chinese SAR satellite. The expect lifetime of the satellite is just 2-3 years. So, the satellite definitely retired.

  5. Gregory Kulacki (History)

    I did a quick search on Chinese news websites. No hits on the story. Anyone else seen anything?

  6. 3.1415 (History)

    Nothing that I see from China on this satellite. Maybe China will use it to test something before it falls down.

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