Collision In Space

It’s A Jungle Out There!

They say that, once upon a time, there were exactly two cars in the entire state of Kansas.  They hit each other. It’s not the same in low earth orbit, where certain orbits are most definitely preferred over others, but the effect is the same.

In an unprecedented space collision, a commercial Iridium communications satellite and a presumably defunct Russian Cosmos satellite ran into each other Tuesday above northern Siberia, creating a cloud of wreckage, officials said today.

The International Space Station is apparently not threatened by the debris.   Other communication satellites might be.

“Nothing to this extent (has happened before),” he said. “We’ve had three other accidental collisions between what we call catalog objects, but they were all much smaller than this and always a moderate sized objects and a very small object. And these are two relatively big objects. So this is a first, unfortunately.”

As for the threat posed by the debris, Johnson said NASA carried out an immediate analysis to determine whether the space station faced any increased risk. The station, carrying three crew members, circles the globe at an altitude of about 220 miles in an orbit tilted 51.6 degrees to the equator.

These two collided at an altitude of nearly 500 miles.  The majority of the debris (but not all) will orbit for quite some time, and some was thrown off in random directions.  Most of that will burn in the atmosphere, and some of the remainder will be ejected into higher non-circular orbits, where it will eventually come down again and burn up in the atmosphere.  It will take days, weeks and months to determine the long term effects of those bits that remain up there.  Those are the pieces that NASA should worry about now.

Hat tip to Rand Simberg for the link.

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