Reason Behind A 20-Year Old Satellite’s Explosion Revealed

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 (DMSP), a 20 year-old satellite of the U.S. Military, exploded in orbit, putting at least 43 pieces of satellite debris into space.

The DMSP, originally stationed 500 miles above the Earth’s surface, was used to monitor oceanographic and meteorological events for the Department of Defense of the United States. Launched in 1995, it has surpassed 100,000 orbits around the planet last year and successfully provided hours of weather images to Air Force and Navy forecasters.

The loss will cause minimal impact because the Air Force still has six other DMSP satellites, including the DMSP Flight 19 launched last April and DMSP Flight 20, which will be the seventh satellite to be launched in 2016. Furthermore, both the Air Force Weather Agency and the National Weather Service were not utilizing the satellite, though it is expected that a little delay from real time weather data may be experienced because of the incident.

The real fear is that such an event could result in many unnecessary objects floating in orbit, raising the possibility of collisions in the future. The International Space Station (ISS), which orbits 250 miles above the surface of the Earth, might have to perform maneuvers to avoid space junk. Thankfully, the explosion has not caused any damage to it. Most of the debris from the DMSP now sits in low Earth orbit.

The DMSP Flight 13 was the oldest operating satellite in the DMSP weather constellation. It blew up last February 3rd and was confirmed by the Air Force Space in Colorado Springs on February 27th. However, it is not the first satellite that exploded after years of service.

The Chief of the Current Operations Division at Air Force Space Command Public Affairs, Andy Roake, explained that the reasons for the military weather satellite explosion are an unanticipated temperature spike experienced by the power subsystem, followed by the loss of attitude control and power system failure. Mainly, however, it exploded due to its old age.

The loss of DMSP Flight 13 was reported at According to NASA and ESA’s statements, the event will serve no significant risk to the other satellites in our orbit.