US and Russian satellites collide in space (Roundup)

February 13th, 2009 - 1:39 am ICT by IANS  

Washington/Moscow, Feb 13 (DPA) A US satellite was destroyed in an unprecedented collision with a spent Russian satellite, raising fears of danger to other satellites, a report said Thursday.
The collision between Iridium-33, a commercial US communications satellite and Russia’s Cosmos 2251 satellite, which had been turned off for years, occurred Tuesday at 04:55 GMT above Siberia at a height of 790 km, the space.com site said, quoting a statement by US space agency NASA.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had two intact spacecraft accidentally run into each other,” said Nicholas Johnson, chief scientist of NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston. “It was a bad day for both of them.”

According to officials a huge debris field of more than 500 pieces formed, which could pose a threat to other satellites. It would take at least two days before the scope of the debris field could be assessed, NASA spokesman Michael Carey told the CBS news channel.

However, experts believed the danger to the International Space Station (ISS), which flies in an orbit well below the impact height, is limited.

There was “no danger whatsoever” to the ISS, Alexander Worobjov, a spokesman for Russia’s space agency Roskosmos said.

“The composition of the debris field still has to be examined,” Russian military spokesman Alexander Yakushin was meanwhile quoted as saying by Russia’s Interfax news agency.

The Russian satellite had been in space since 1993 but has for years no longer been in use, he said. Iridium-33 has been in orbit since 1997.

Initial radar examinations by the US military showed around 600 pieces of debris in the wake of the collision.

It would however take about two days to determine the exact extent of these fields, Carey said.

A space expert told Interfax in Moscow that the debris could collide with old Soviet spy satellites carrying radioactive batteries. There was the danger that radioactive clouds could be discharged into space, the expert said.

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