Washington, March 4 (IANS): A 20-year-old US military weather satellite exploded in orbit last month following a sudden temperature spike in its power system, producing at least 43 pieces of space debris, US media reported Tuesday.
The explosion of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 (DMSP-F13) occurred on February 3, and investigators have ruled out a collision with a piece of space junk and other external factors as the cause.
"Basically, the spacecraft was 20 years old and experienced what appears to be a catastrophic event associated with a power system failure," US space news website Space.com quoted Andy Roake, chief of the Current Operations Division at Air Force Space Command Public Affairs in Colorado Springs, as saying.
It was reported that DMSP-F13's power subsystem experienced "a sudden spike in temperature" followed by "an unrecoverable loss of attitude control", according to Xinhua.
Launched in 1995, DMSP-F13 occupied a sun-synchronous polar orbit about 800 kms above Earth. It was transitioned to a backup role in 2006, still collecting data but not involved in weather forecast modelling.
"Because this satellite was no longer used by the National Weather Service or the Air Force Weather Agency, the impact of the loss of this satellite is minimal," Space.com quoted the US air force as saying. The air force has six DMSP satellites in service.
It was not the first DMSP satellite to explode after years of reliable service. In April 2004, a 13-year-old DMSP spacecraft dubbed DMSP-F11 experienced a similarly catastrophic breakup that produced 56 pieces of catalogued space debris. But the satellite was no longer operational when it exploded.