The recent fragmentations of LEO upper stages
Between March 1991, and March 1993, three USSR/CIS upper stages from two different launch vehicle families broke up at moderate LEO altitudes, creating more than 300 long-lived debris. All three vehicles had successfully completed their satellite delivery missions before the breakups occurred 1-21 days after launch. Two of the vehicles, a Kosmos second stage and a Zenit second stage, apparently experienced multiple fragmentations. Joint Russian-American accident investigations have characterized the fragmentation events, uncovered potential accident scenarios, and recommended corrective measures for future missions. As seen repeatedly in recent years, residual propellants continue to be an apparent source for launch vehicle breakups. International cooperation can not only assist in better defining the near-Earth space environment, but also can improve space operations and mitigate the unnecessary growth of the Earth's satellite population.
- Pub Date:
- October 1996