Satellites smash creates copious space junk

February 12th, 2009 - 12:26 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Feb 12 (ANI): A major collision between two satellites on February 10 has resulted in hundreds of pieces of debris floating in space that could pose a risk to other spacecraft.

According to a report in New Scientist, the accident happened between a defunct Russian Cosmos satellite and a communication satellite owned by the US firm Iridium, some 790 kilometers above northern Siberia.

This is the first time that two intact spacecraft have accidentally run into each other, said Nicholas Johnson, chief scientist of NASAs Orbital Debris Program Office in Houston, Texas.

The two craft were moving in almost perpendicular directions when they collided, and the extent of the damage will become clearer as the debris from the two satellites spreads out, he added.

According to Iridium documents, such satellites orbit at speeds of more than 25,000 kilometers per hour.

The NASA office, which detects and tracks debris measuring less than 10 centimeters across, has just begun its assessment of the damage, Johnson told New Scientist.

But, the US military, which tracks objects spanning 10 centimeters or more, has already detected more than 500 pieces of debris from the collision, according to Julie Ziegenhorn, a spokesperson for the militarys Strategic Air Command.

The chance the debris will collide with other spacecraft is still unclear.

The International Space Station, which orbits at an altitude of some 350 kilometers, does not seem to be at immediate risk of colliding with the debris, Johnson said.

But, the detritus could potentially hit a number of Earth observation, communication, and scientific satellites.

If that happened, the satellite it struck could itself break up, creating ever more space junk in a cascade effect.

Most of the debris is expected to stay in orbit for years.

The majority is right there around 790 kilometers, and those will take a long time to fall back to Earth, said Johnson. The majority will take decades at least, he added. (ANI)

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