About 600 new large fragments of space debris were created in low Earth orbit as a result of the break-up of two satellites and rocket stages within a month during the last quarter of 2001, according to NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Last year there were nine satellite fragmentations - the most for three years, says NASA.

Russia's Cosmos 2367 broke apart just 30km (18 miles) above the International Space Station (ISS), forming 300 pieces of debris, 40% of which were thrown into orbits crossing the path of the ISS. This was followed by the disintegration of Molniya 3-25, forming about 30 fragments due to orbital decay, all of which re-entered the Earth's atmosphere soon after.

Over 300 fragments were created by the break-up of the fourth stage of the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, possibly due to the ignition of residual hypergolic propellants that had not been vented as required by international practice.

The third stage of an Ariane 4 booster which had launched Intelsat 601, also broke into several pieces.

Source: Flight International