WASHINGTON, March 2 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force confirmed on Feb. 26 a "catastrophic event" that led to the destruction of a weather satellite on Feb. 3.
The satellite, previously used by the U.S. militar,y exploded into 43 pieces.
Engineers with the military suggest a temperature spike disrupted the satellites bearings and caused Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 (DMSP-F13) to lose altitude control. The oldest in the military's fleet of weather satellites, DMSP-F13 was mostly phased out of operation in 2006 -- still collecting data in a backup role but not involved in long-term modeling. Air Force officials said its loss would have minimal effects on their operations and forecasting abilities.
"Because this satellite was no longer used by the National Weather Service or the Air Force Weather Agency, the impact of the loss of this satellite is minimal," officials told Space News. "We anticipate real-time weather data for tactical users will be slightly reduced without this satellite, but its data was not being used for weather forecast modeling."
Still, scientists with the Air Force will continue to investigate the details of the event to prevent similar catastrophes in the future.
The 43 pieces will likely continue to orbit the Earth before eventually being pulled back into the atmosphere by the planet's gravity. While the possibility for the space debris to intersect with other satellites exists, at this point, engineers are pretty adept maneuvering space vehicles out of harm's way. There are currently 21,000 pieces of space junk measuring 4 inches or more orbiting the Earth.