Low-intensity explosion caused Russian satellite to spew debris

On June 26th, the Russian satellite Resurs P1 suffered a “low-intensity explosion” that created hundreds of pieces of orbital debris in LEO. The cause of the event remains unknown at this time, however, the debris count has been confirmed to be over one hundred by ground-based sensors. The investigation team currently believes a low-intensity explosion was caused an uncatalogued fragment colliding with the spacecraft or perhaps an internal structure failure in the propulsion system. At this time, the investigation team has ruled out that the satellite was used as a target for an anti-satellite weapons test. Both Russia and the United States have not made statements suggesting such a plan was carried out. While the satellite did experience this breakup event, the main structure remains intact. This event could have been significantly worse for that reason. The collected data thus far would suggest a majority of the debris will reenter the atmosphere over the course of the coming weeks and months. This event highlights the ever-increasing risk of space junk.

This article has cybersecurity implications in that an event such as this could be something that a potential threat actor would look to pursue. A demonstration of such an attack was performed by China back in 2007. This attack, known as a direct ascent antisatellite (ASAT) attack, will typically launch a projectile through space on a ballistic arc with the intention of destroying a spacecraft in orbit. The attack by China was met negatively by other nations who are openly against the militarization of space. While China’s attack was done with a missile, a similar attack could be done by taking over a satellite’s C&DH subsystem and putting the spacecraft on a collision course with another satellite in a nearby orbit. The resulting effect would generate significant orbital debris, which could in turn cause a significant number of hazards for spacecraft in similar orbits. Space debris is a major concern for satellites, and the ripe potential to cause significant issues in space presents potential threat actors with a valuable attack angle.