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The first three pieces of debris cataloged from the Yaogan 1 breakup are shown. The approximate time of the incident (2/4/10 at 6:49 UTC) was determined by “backtracking” the pieces. The fact that the debris and the remainder of the satellite do not exactly “match up” indicates errors associated with the orbital measurements.

Yaogan 1, a Chinese Earth Observation Satellite, erupted into multiple pieces last week. By back-tracking the pieces, I believe the date and time of the incident was February 4, 2010 at about 6:49 UTC. It is interesting to note that the maximum difference in orbital speeds is about 22 m/s. That can be compared with the hundreds of meters per second typical in a collision. Judging by past experience, a few more pieces of debris will be cataloged in the days to come. Yaogan 1 would have been four years old this April (launch date: 27 April 2006).

Just to be complete, there is no indication that this was anything other than an internal explosion. While the original satellite might appear in this particular view to be over China at the time of the incident, it is actually well over the Ocean.