Beijing asserts that space debris from the Russian anti-satellite missile testing came within 47 feet (14.5 meters) of knocking down China’s Tsinghua scientific satellite. 

According to tracking data, Tsinghua almost collided with the fragment of debris (49863), on Tuesday, January 18, at 02:49 GMT.

The two objects passed each other at a relative speed of more than 11,700 miles per hour, according to CNSA. 

Russia’s satellite Cosmos 1408 weighed 4,410 lbs. It was destroyed by an ‘antisatellite missile’ test in November.

Cosmos 1408 was launched in 1982. It was then deliberately destroyed by Russia because it wasn’t operational anymore. 

According to experts, the space debris from the collision over the Atlantic Ocean – which included ‘some 1,500 pieces of trackable size’ – will cause havoc for spacecraft for years, if not decades.  

To prevent catastrophic collisions with manned space stations, the Spacefaring Nations must now take serious steps to rid Earth’s orbit from this so-called “space junk”. 

Russia blew up one of its own satellites on Monday, November 15, using a missile. Cosmos 1408, a defunct spy satellite launched in 1982, was the destroyed target, which resulted in a field of 1,500 pieces of debris endangering the crew of the ISS

Russia destroyed one of its satellites with a missile on Monday, Nov. 15. Cosmos 1408, a former spy satellite that was launched in 1982, was destroyed. The resultant debris field contained 1,500 pieces, posing a threat to the crew of the ISS.

Pictured is the debris field created by the Russian anti-satellite test against Cosmos 1408 in LEO (low Earth orbit)

This is the debris from the Russian antisatellite attack against Cosmos1408 in LEO.

COSMOS 1408 

Cosmos 1408, also spelt Kosmos 1408, was a Soviet ELINT (Electronic and Signals Intelligence) satellite launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome on September 16, 1982. 

This device was created to pinpoint the exact location and activity of radio transmitters.

 On November 15, 2021, Cosmos 1408, no longer operational, was destroyed in a Russian kinetic anti-satellite test, generating a cloud of debris including some 1,500 pieces of trackable size.

Cosmos 1408 was approximately 300 miles away from Earth at that time and had created a debris cloud between 270 and 320 mile from Earth. 


Tsinghua, China’s research payload built by universities, was launched to orbit on a Long March 2D rocket in August 2020. 

Liu Jing, a space debris expert and deputy director of CNSA’s Space Debris Monitoring and Application Center, told Global Times that actual collisions between the pair are likely in future. 

Private companies and government branches can track satellite debris with Earth-based radar. This is a great way to help satellite operators avoid collisions. 

Jing explained that while they maintain a distance at the moment, there is always the possibility for them to become closer over time. 

“If it is, we must quickly alert our satellites to warn them and to make some maneuvers ahead to prevent these pieces of debris from falling. This is currently the best and most practical method. 

According to CNSA, the distance between the two objects leading up to Tuesday was getting closer each time they complete an orbit of Earth. 

On Tuesday, the possibility of collision between the two became ‘very high’, which is ‘alarmingly dangerous’, according to Global Times, when they came within 47 feet of each other at a relative speed of 3.27 miles per second (11,788 miles per hour). 

The latest data show that the distance between Cosmos 1408 debris and Tsinghua is increasing, but Liu said ‘we cannot exclude the possibility that these two get closer in the future again’. 

Space debris from the collision over the Atlantic Ocean – which included 'some 1,500 pieces of trackable size' – will cause havoc for spacecraft for years, if not decades (concept image)

Space debris from the collision over the Atlantic Ocean – which included ‘some 1,500 pieces of trackable size’ – will cause havoc for spacecraft for years, if not decades (concept image)


Scientists are proposing to turn space junk — debris from Earth’s orbit — into rocket fuel. They also plan to establish a “gas station in space”. 

Satellites would capture bits of space junk at speeds up to 17,000 mph before they are stored and cut up with advanced robotics.

The space foundry is being built to melt debris into rods of metal, which could then be used for rocket fuel in an “in-space electric propeller system”. 

The European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that there are approximately 9.200 tonnes worth of space debris floating around the Earth. This can be dangerous for astronauts. 

Just last week, crew members on the International Space Station (ISS) were forced to take emergency action after a More than 1500 pieces of debris were created by a Russian weapon test that was deemed’reckless’ and ‘irresponsible.  

Read more: Scientists reveal plans to transform space junk into ROCKET FUEL

Jonathan McDowell, at Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics expressed doubts that China’s estimates could have been so precise. 

McDowell stated that although the US satellite tracking data is publicly available, it confirms that 49863 passed very close to Tsinghua Science Satellite’s January 18th, the claims that 14.5 metres was the distance are meaningless because they don’t give any error bars or level of uncertainty.  

It is unlikely that China’s trackers can accurately determine the distance at this point. 

Houston Mission Control in November ordered that the Russian anti-satellite missile strike on the International Space Station (ISS), which orbits 260 miles above Earth, be stopped. The astronauts were told to evacuate the escape pods and get inside safety. 

LeoLabs, a US-based space company, criticized Russia for putting the crew at risk on the ISS. They called it an ‘irresponsible action that harms all nations in space’. 

LeoLabs said there will be a potential collision risk to most satellites in low-Earth orbit due to the fragmentation of Cosmos 1408 ‘over the next few years to decades’. 

The company stated that a “significant breakup” occurred in space and Russia intentionally used the direct-ascent-anti-satellite missile strike (DASAT) against one their defunct satellites. 

“LeoLabs condemns the irresponsible act, which now damages all spacefaring countries and will harm the whole space economy for many years to follow.” 

LeoLabs said in October that Cosmos 1408 and the dead Chinese Chang Zheng 4C rocket had a 10 per cent chance of colliding, although the two ended up narrowly avoid collision by just 36 feet.  

Huang Zhicheng is an aerospace expert and has said that space debris can have an increasing impact on spaceflights. Therefore, it’s important to get rid of them.  

He stated that it was not enough to research spacecraft or experimental devices to eliminate space debris but also necessary to create international laws and regulations for the creation of space debris in the UN framework.

An explosion in space can also cause debris. Other countries may conduct missile tests to destroy their satellites by using missiles. 

Simulation of the initial dispersion of the fragments resulting from the reported anti-satellite weapon test on Monday, November 15

Simulated initial dispersion from fragments following the anti-satellite weapons test Monday, November 15.


Chinese citizens vented fury at Elon Musk and billionaire SpaceX after he claimed China’s space station had to take defensive action in order to avoid collisions with SpaceX Starlink satellites.

One user posted on China’s Twitter-like Weibo microblogging site on Monday that Starlink satellites were “just a heap of space junk”, while another called them “American space warfare weapons”.  

Although Musk is widely admired in China, the reputation of Tesla – which sells tens of thousands of vehicles in the country each month – has faltered this year following a spate of crashes, scandals and data storage concerns.

Tesla continues to be hugely successful, with around one in four of its vehicles being sold in China. A rare, wholly-owned factory was built in Shanghai. 

Continue reading: Chinese Citizens Slam Musk for Threat to Space Station 

China, India, and Russia also have taken down satellites. The space debris has created an enormous trail that circled our planet. 

Based on sensors readings in low-earth orbit (LEO), the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking confirmed that Cosmos 1408 had been dissolved. 

It stated that ASAT (kinetic anti-satellite) tests were usually conducted against objects orbiting for strategic purposes, or to demonstrate or test technological capabilities. 

“Those experiments that led to space debris were a threat to our space infrastructure including the lives of astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), as well the long-term viability of all space activities.”    

The European Space Agency claims that swirling pieces of human-made spacecraft are currently orbiting around Earth from fragments. 

The number, weight, and size of these objects increases steadily over time, increasing the risks to working satellites and astronauts.  

According to Hugh Lewis, a professor of engineering at the University of Southampton, each piece of space debris from the collision is moving at a different speed depending on the height of its orbit.

Professor Lewis has created a visualisation showing a stream of debris shooting up away from Earth before dispersing. 

Professor Lewis stated to The Verge, “Even though they begin all together, what’s actually happening is that those in larger orbits take longer for the Earth to revolve around them, while the ones in smaller orbits take less time.” 

“So those in lower orbits appear to advance more than the ones in higher ones. This is what makes it stretch.

Debris from Cosmos 1408 simply adds to a cloud of junk that leads to an ever-increasing risk of collision. 

LeoLabs said in October that Cosmos 1408 and the dead Chinese Chang Zheng 4C rocket had a 10 per cent chance of colliding , although the two ended up narrowly avoid collision by just 36 feet

LeoLabs reported in October that Cosmos 1408 was at a 10% risk of colliding with the Chinese Chang Zheng 4C missile, but the pair managed to narrowly avoid collision by 36 feet

Because of their speed, space debris can travel as small and as tiny as 1 cm. This could cause complete destruction of satellites. 

According to NASA, there are about 23,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth.

A half-million pieces of debris are as large as a piece of marble. There are approximately 100 million pieces that measure 0.04 inches in size.

NASA asserts that there are even smaller debris (0.000039 inch diameter) 

ESA, meanwhile, estimates the total mass of all space objects in Earth orbit is more than 9,600 tonnes.  

The agency estimates that there have been over 560 events leading to fragmentation, including explosions, collidings or other anomalous phenomena. 

A European Commission expert warned in 2021 that unwanted debris from low-Earth orbit could become the equivalent to a “new drifting island” of plastic. 


There are an estimated 170 million pieces of so-called ‘space junk’ – left behind after missions that can be as big as spent rocket stages or as small as paint flakes – in orbit alongside some US$700 billion (£555bn) of space infrastructure.

Only 27,000 satellites are currently being tracked. Fragments can travel speeds of more than 16,777 miles (27,000 kmh). Even small pieces could cause serious damage to or even complete destruction.

Traditional gripping techniques don’t work well in spaces, since suction cups are not designed to operate in vacuums and the temperatures for glue and tape are too low.

Magnetic grippers are ineffective because the majority of debris orbiting Earth around it isn’t magnetic.

The planet currently has around 500,000 pieces human-made debris. These are disused satellites and bits of spacecraft as well as spent rockets.

Many of the solutions suggested, such as debris harpoons and other debris-removal devices, require forceful interactions with the debris. These could lead to unintended or unpredictable results.

Two events have been identified by scientists as having contributed to the space junk problem.

In February 2009, an Iridium satellite for telecoms and a Kosmos-2251 satellite for military communications collided.

Second, in January 2007, China tried an antisatellite weapon against an Fengyun old weather satellite.

Experts pointed out two other sites that are becoming too cluttered.

Low Earth orbit is the one used for navigation satellites and China’s manned missions.

One is located in geostationary orbit and can be used by satellites for communications, weather, surveillance, and other purposes that require a stable position relative to Earth.