Analysis of the 2007 Chinese ASAT Test
and the Impact of its Debris
on the Space Environment

8th Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference

Kelso, T.S., "Analysis of the 2007 Chinese ASAT Test and the Impact of its Debris on the Space Environment," presented at the 8th Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference, Maui, HI, 2007 September 14.


On 2007 January 11, the People's Republic of China conducted a successful direct-ascent ASAT test against one of their own defunct polar-orbiting weather satellites. The test produced at least 2,087 pieces of debris large enough to be routinely tracked by the US Space Surveillance Network and the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office estimated it generated over 35,000 pieces of debris down to 1 centimeter in size.

While this event captured worldwide attention in the weeks and months after the test was revealed, much of the information provided in the press was inaccurate or misleading and did not appear to be based on scientific analysis of the data available to the public. In order to help the public and key policy makers more fully understand the nature of the event and its impact on the existing satellite population, the Center for Space Standards & Innovation developed a series of animations, images, and graphical analyses to more clearly portray this event and provide a factual foundation for the subsequent debate. Those materials were all made publicly available via the Internet without restriction and have appeared in numerous publications.

This paper will summarize the primary areas of analysis of this event, to include a confirmation of the basic facts initially reported in Aviation Week & Space Technology, a visualization of the initial spread of the debris cloud in the first couple of hours after the attack, analysis of the impact of the debris on the LEO space environment—including the number of satellites potentially affected and the increase in the number of conjunctions, a look at the current debris environment, and an assessment of the orbital lifetimes that shows that these impacts will last not for years but for centuries. The visualization techniques used to portray these analyses played a substantial role in helping the scientific community to quickly and easily convey important aspects of this event to policy makers and the public at large.

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