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Recently satellite trackers have received some dirty work to do. They work day and night shifts to figure out how dangerous debris Russia created when it blew up one of its satellites. Multiple visual simulations of Russia’s anti-satellite, or ASAT, test show a widespread cloud of debris that will likely menace other objects in orbit for years.

What actually happened?

Last week Russia blew up the country’s Kosmos 1408 satellite, a large spacecraft that was drifting around the Earth roughly 300 miles up. So the explosion transformed one space object into 1,500 space objects but smaller in size. The Verge notices that the number goes for pieces that the US State Department can track. All these vase pieces are still flying in low Earth orbit and create a possible emergency situation as they are moving thousands of miles an hour. Initially, they could affect even the International Space Station, with astronauts aboard as the debris cloud from the satellite passed the ISS a couple of times.

It’ll take a plenty of time to measure out how bad the situation is as well as to count all possible solutions to avoid any accidents. Early visualizations of the ASAT test created by satellite trackers show an extensive trail of space debris left in the wake of the breakup. “There will be some potential collision risk to most satellites in [low Earth orbit] from the fragmentation of Cosmos 1408 over the next few years to decades,” LeoLabs, a private space tracking company in the US, wrote in a blog post.

Two visualizations created by the European Union’s Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) network and space software company AGI reveal what likely happened in the first moment of impact when Russia’s missile intercepted Kosmos 1408. They both show how the debris cloud grew instantly and spread throughout space. AGI’s simulation also shows just how close the cloud comes to intersecting with the International Space Station, validating NASA’s concerns and the agency’s decision to have the astronauts shelter in place.

Take a look at the other visualisation made by Hugh Lewis who is a professor of engineering at the University of Southampton. It shows the width of the debris from Kosmos 1408. Lewis explains that when Russia’s missile hit the satellite, each of the fragments that were created got a little kick, sending them to higher and lower altitudes. Every piece moves with its own speed which correlates depending on the height of its orbit.

“Even though they start all together, what’s happening is that the ones in the bigger orbits take longer to go around the Earth, and the ones in the smaller orbits take less time to go around the Earth,” Lewis tells The Verge. “So the ones that are lower seem to move ahead of the ones that are in the higher orbits. And that’s what stretches it out.”

Lewis also states that the cloud will transform over time. The pieces that are flying closer to the Earth will fall out of orbit, while others that are higher will continue their “journey”.

For now, Lewis’ visualization relies on simulations based on where we think these pieces of debris might be, given the size of Kosmos 1408 and the physics of a missile striking a satellite. However, the visualization will become more realistic as real-world data from the test trickles in. US Space Command is responsible for tracking objects in space, but it has yet to make any of the tracks from the ASAT test available to the public.

LeoLabs posted its calculations of the situation in a blog post. The company took into consideration 300 fragments from the test, likely the biggest pieces from the breakup. But the conclusion is still the same: lower pieces will fall on the Earth or burn up in the atmosphere and higher fragments could stay in orbit for decades creating a risk situation for ISS and other satellites.

“This is not going to be a short-lived problem,” says Lewis. “It’s going to be affecting space operations for at least this decade and the next one.”

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