The U.S. Joint Space Operations Center is tracking a debris field of 43 objects after a weather satellite launched in 1995 apparently exploded.

The incident occurred after National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operators detected a thermal spike in the satellite on Feb. 3, Air Force Space Command officials say.

A decision was made to "render the vehicle safe [i.e., shut down all non-essential systems] after [Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 (DMSP-13)] operators discovered a sudden spike in temperature in the power subsystem ... followed by an unrecoverable loss of attitude control," according to a statement from Air Force Space Command. The satellite reached its end of life on Feb. 3 at 4:39 a.m. EST. Space News was first to report the event.

Simultaneous to the thermal spike, the Jspoc "identified a debris field near the satellite. The center monitors objects in space; it is designed to warn of "conjunctions," or collisions that could jeopardize satellites. Jspoc is continuing to monitor the debris field after identifying 43 objects where the satellite was last located.

Originally launched by the Air Force, DMSP satellites operate in polar orbit about 458 mi. over Earth, collecting a variety of weather data. No conjunction warnings were needed for the debris field as of the morning of March 2. "While the initial response is complete, Jspoc personnel will continue to assess this event to learn more about what happened and what it will mean for users within this orbit," said Col. John Giles, Jspoc director.

The Jspoc put the debris information into shortly after the event, says Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Air Force Space Command. This is the normal procedure after such an event, he adds.

Typically, an operator shifts a dying satellite into an disposal orbit to avoid such an incident – especially one that can create debris – but the "temperature spike was not an anticipated event," Dorrian says.

Six DMSP satellites are now left to provide the weather data needed for the military.

After the Air Force considered putting its final DMSP satellite – number 20 – in storage rather than spend the money to launch it, the service had decided to loft the spacecraft prior to this incident. It will likely be open to competition between the United Launch Alliance and SpaceX.