Russian rocket tanks used to launch a radio telescope have broken up into 65 chunks, littering Earth’s orbit with debris.
The tanks, dumped from the Fregat-SB upper stage of the Zenit-3SLBF rocket that took the Spektr-R radio telescope into orbit in 2011, disintegrated on Friday, Roscosmos said on Sunday. “According to reports, the destruction occurred on May 8, 2020 in the time interval 08:00 – 09:00 Moscow time over the Indian Ocean,” a statement reads.
It’s not clear what caused the break-up. The 18th Space Control Squadron (18 SPCS) of the US Air Force went public with details of the disintegration on Saturday, and noted there was no evidence it was caused by a collision
Roscosmos said it is counting up the exact number of fragments from the, well, rapid self-disassembly of the tank block. There are said to be at least 65 pieces whizzing round at thousands of miles per hour in an orbit with an apogee height of 3,606 kilometres, perigee height of 422 kilometres, and orbital inclination of 51.45 degrees.
As for the Spektr-R: it was declared defunct in early 2019 after going silent. At the time, it was Russia’s only space telescope publicly known to be operational.