As reported on Tuesday by the 18th Space Defense Squadron of the US Space Forces, on April 15, an object in Earth orbit, cataloged with the number №32398, disintegrated. Object №32398 was an engine from a space tug that helped deliver three Russian GLONASS satellites into orbit. GLONASS is a Russian version of the GPS navigation system. Russia launched it in 2007.
According to astrophysicist and satellite tracking expert Jonathan McDowell, who works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the GLONASS spacecraft launched on Russia’s Proton rocket, the upper stage of which had two small supercharged engines.
These upper Proton-stage engines are known as SOZ (Sistema Obespecheniya Zapuska, which translates as “Launch Assurance System), and there are currently 64 of them in Earth orbit. SOZ do not use all of their fuel at launch. At least 54 of them have exploded so far, McDowell wrote on Twitter. The newly exploded SOZ engine moved around the Earth in a highly elliptical trajectory, approaching a distance of 388 km and a distance of 19,074 km, the researcher said, noting that “the wreckage takes a long time to enter the atmosphere.”
Space debris is a growing problem for satellite operators and mission planners. The European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that there are currently about 36,500 pieces of debris with a diameter of at least 10 cm around the Earth. According to the ESA, there are about 1 million objects in Earth orbit with a diameter of 1 to 10 cm.
Russia previously added debris after it destroyed one of its non-functioning satellites with a rocket, creating a new pile of garbage in space.