Catastrophic stage explosion -
Rocket explosion raises worries over space debris
A Russian Breeze M rocket stage, left with loaded fuel tanks after an August launch failure, exploded in orbit Oct. 16, raising concerns of the U.S. military, NASA and global satellite operators on the lookout for collision threats from hundreds of new space debris fragments.
The Breeze M stage violently disintegrated some time Oct. 16, dispersing debris in an arc around Earth encompassing orbital zones populated by the International Space Station and numerous communications, scientific, and military satellites.
The upper stage launched Aug. 6 on a Proton rocket, and its job was to place Indonesia's Telkom 3 and Russia's Express MD2 communications satellites into geostationary orbit 22,000 miles above Earth's equator.
But the Breeze M failed at the start of the third of four planned engine burns, leaving the vehicle and its payloads well short of their targeted altitude. At the time of the mishap, the Breeze M still had more than half of its hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants in its primary and auxiliary fuel tanks.
The substances are hypergolic, meaning they combust when coming in contact with each other. With much of the propellants left on-board the Breeze M, any contact would have generated an explosion.
Air Force Lt. Col. Monica Matoush, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the U.S. military was tracking debris from the Breeze M breakup.
The Defense Department's joint functional component command for space, known by the acronym JFCC-Space, monitors objects in orbit and issues collision alerts to U.S. government, international and commercial satellite owners.