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Dead Russian Satellite And Discarded Chinese Rocket At ‘Very High Risk’ Of Colliding Above Earth

by : Emily Brown on : 15 Oct 2020 09:13
Dead Russian Satellite And Discarded Chinese Rocket At 'Very High Risk' Of Colliding Above EarthDead Russian Satellite And Discarded Chinese Rocket At 'Very High Risk' Of Colliding Above EarthLeoLabs

A dead Russian satellite and a discarded Chinese rocket body are at ‘high risk’ of collision as their orbits around Earth reach an intersection. 

The pieces of space junk are just two of the nearly 130 million bits of debris that currently surround the Earth. The objects, which include abandoned satellites and pieces of spacecraft, travel at roughly 10 times the speed of a bullet, meaning even the tiniest of pieces can inflict incredible damage to anything in its path.

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On Tuesday, October 13, LeoLabs, a company that uses radar to track satellites and debris in space, revealed it was monitoring a ‘very high-risk conjunction’ as the ‘two large defunct objects’ look set to cross paths.

Through a series of observations, the company determined the satellite and the rocket could miss each other by just 12 meters (39 feet).

LeoLabs calculated there is a 10% chance the objects will collide at 8.56pm ET tonight, October 15. Though there is a 90% chance the objects won’t collide, it’s worth noting that NASA routinely moves the International Space Station when it has just a 0.001% (1-in-100,000) chance or greater of colliding with another object.

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As both the satellite and the rocket body are defunct, there’s no chance of altering their trajectories. The odds of the collision are expected to change as they get closer to one another, though LeoLabs expects the risk to stay high.

Though the collision would take place above Earth, the pieces of debris are 991 kilometers (616 miles) above the ground and are set to cross paths above Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, meaning there shouldn’t be any danger to humans.

However, a crash would cause problems in space because the Soviet satellite and the Chinese rocket body have a mass of nearly three metric tons (2,800 kilograms), meaning a collision could send a significant amount of debris rocketing into space at all directions.

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Dan Ceperley, the CEO of LeoLabs, told Business Insider:

If this turns into a collision, it’s probably thousands to tens of thousands of new pieces of debris that is going to cause a headache for any satellite that’s going out into upper low-Earth orbit, or even beyond.

It’s maybe a much bigger problem than a lot of people realise.

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Experts at The Aerospace Corporation have also been tracking the two objects, and after running their own numbers they calculated a much lower chance of collision at just 1 in 250,000 million.

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Ted Muelhaupt, who oversees The Aerospace Corporation’s space-debris analysis, said the experts didn’t want to ‘throw any shade’ on LeoLabs’ process, but said that the data they had collected made them ‘pretty confident’ the satellites aren’t going to collide.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: News, China, NASA, Now, Russia, Space

Credits

LeoLabs/Twitter and 1 other
  1. LeoLabs/Twitter

    @LeoLabs_Space

  2. Business Insider

    A dead Soviet satellite and a discarded Chinese rocket body have a 1-in-10 chance of colliding in space on Thursday