An Earth-orbiting object
cataloged as #32398 broke up on April 15, the U.S. Space Force's 18th Space Defense Squadron tweeted on Tuesday (May 3).
The squadron added.
Sixteen pieces of space debris associated with the event are currently being tracked,
Object #32398 was an ullage motor
from a space tug that helped deliver three Russian GLONASS satellites to orbit in 2007, according to journalist and author Anatoly Zak, who runs RussianSpaceWeb.com.
The SOZ motors don't use up all
their propellant when they fire. And they have an unfortunate tendency to go bang years or decades later, leaving a bunch of debris in highly elliptical orbit. At least 54 SOZ motors have now exploded
The SOZ motor that just blew
up had been racing around Earth in a highly elliptical path, getting as close as 241 miles (388 kilometers) and as far away as 11,852 miles (19,074 km)
Space junk is a growing problem for
satellite operators and mission planners. The European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that about 36,500 pieces of debris at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) wide are currently whizzing around Earth.