Two large pieces of space junk have nearly collided with each other in low Earth orbit, highlighting the need to evacuate space closer to home.
Leolabs, a space traffic management service that tracks satellites and other objects in orbit, spotted the close call on September 13, in which an old Soviet payload and the body of a spent Chinese rocket were moving at incredible speeds.
The conjunction of the two objects resulted in the pair passing head-on. Leolabs determined it was likely Cosmos 807, an 880-pound (400 kg) payload launched in 1976, about 4,400 pounds (2,000 kg) of Chinese spacecraft. Long walk The 4C rocket stage was launched five years ago.
Both would have been traveling at about 7.5 kilometers per second, or 16,800 mph, as they passed overhead at an altitude of about 428 miles (689 km). The collision of these massive, high-energy pieces of space junk would create about 3,000 pieces of debris in space. Low Earth orbitaccording to Leolabs.
Related: Debris trackers orbiting Earth could be a game-changer in space junk monitoring
Earth’s atmosphere is very fragile at this altitude, which means that small pieces of debris from such a collision would take a long time to return to Earth out of harm’s way, increasing the danger to satellites operating in similar orbits.
⚠️ On September 13, an abandoned Soviet-era payload was attached to a Chinese missile object. The missing distance was 36 m (± 13 m) and the collision probability was 1E-3 (i.e. 0.1% or 1/1000). While we’ve seen more nail-biting events, this one is notable — and here’s why. pic.twitter.com/f32vt8uuclSeptember 18, 2023
Leolabs calculated The error distance was 118 feet (36 m), plus or minus 43 feet (13 m), giving a collision probability of 0.1%, or one in a thousand. However, both pieces have had dozens of other close contacts with other pieces of unwanted satellites or operational satellites in the past two years.
At orbital speeds, even small pieces of debris can do this Inflict incredible damage. This could threaten astronauts aboard the International Space Station or China’s Tiangong Space Station, or the ability to use orbits for Earth observation, science, communications, and much more.
A recent report from the European Space Agency noted that although countries and companies are adopting new measures to mitigate space debris, debris in orbit is making our planet worse. Behavior in space is not sustainable.
The new close call highlights the need to clean up our work in space and reduce the chances of cascading growth of dangerous space debris, known as… Kessler syndrome.
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