An iridium satellite flar as seen from the ISS.  Credit: Don Pettit, NASA

Two Satellites Collide in Earth Orbit

11 Feb , 2009

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A commercial Iridium communications satellite collided with a Russian satellite or satellite fragment, on Tuesday, creating a cloud of wreckage in low-Earth orbit, according to CBS News. A source quoted in the article said U.S. Space Command is tracking about 280 pieces of debris, most of it from a non-operational Russian satellite. It appears the International Space Station is not currently threatened by the debris, but it’s not yet clear whether the debris poses a risk to any other satellites in similar orbits. Iridium operates a constellation of approximately 66 satellites, along with orbital spares, to support satellite telephone operations around the world.

Neither NASA or Iridium Satellite LLC has officially released any information about the collision, and a spokesman for U.S. Space Command was not aware of the incident. But one NASA manager who asked not to be named, seemed to confirm the collision and said, “Everybody is saying the risk (of further collisions) is minimal to NASA assets.”
UPDATE: The Spaceflightnow.com article has been updated with quotes from a statement by Iridium and U.S. Strategic Command, that confirm the collision took place.

In an article on Spaceflightnow.com, Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, confirmed the collision. “They collided at an altitude of 790 kilometers (491 miles) over northern Siberia Tuesday about noon Washington time,” said “The U.S. space surveillance network detected a large number of debris from both objects.”

Iridium Satellite System.  Credit: Spaceflightnow.com

Iridium Satellite System. Credit: Spaceflightnow.com


The Iridium spacecraft are in orbits tilted 86.4 degrees to the equator at an altitude of about 485 miles while the ISS orbits Earth at an altitude of about 215 miles in an orbit tilted 51.6 degrees to the equator. Other civilian science satellites operate in polar orbits similar to Iridium’s and presumably could face an increased risk as a result of the collision.

Johnson said the collision is unprecedented. “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.”

Sources: CBS News, Spaceflightnow.com


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Sirius_Alpha
Member
Sirius_Alpha
February 11, 2009 6:52 PM

I’ve got to ask, with what speed did the two hit?

ryan voots
Guest
ryan voots
February 11, 2009 3:17 PM

well now this is certainly not that unexpected, but still kinda funny smile

simon
Member
simon
February 11, 2009 3:29 PM

I thought the orbits could be calculated with high degree of precision. Surely this could have been avoided. Where is the space traffic control?

killercop
Member
killercop
February 11, 2009 3:35 PM

ooops

Nick
Guest
Nick
February 11, 2009 5:38 PM
While reading this article, I immediately thought of the Japanese animated series Planetes, which starts with exactly the issue of collecting space junk in the year 2075. One of the few hard sci-fi series I’ve seen to date. Seriously, this is one series that you don’t have to be one of those sweaty “anime” fans to like; it treats its audience seriously without being too heavy with the issues (though some characters might still be annoying). It doesn’t follow most of the major anime (and sci-fi) cliches. And it also has one of the most satisfying endings I’ve seen in a TV series. A good review of the series was written by The Space Review (might have spoilers).
robbi
Guest
robbi
February 11, 2009 3:47 PM

Traffic control?!?! There are so many different types of satillites with such different type orbits, and the space junk!? We also have to remember there’s another thing to remember about in the equation, the occasional meteoroid or meteor say about the size of a football or soccer ball-when it comes to satillites or manned vehicles and meteors, meteors ‘ALWAYS HAVE THE RIGHT- OF- WAY’!!!!! There is no law or court on Earth that can change that!!

Silver Thread
Member
Silver Thread
February 11, 2009 3:55 PM

Keep right except to pass.

Honad
Guest
Honad
February 11, 2009 4:00 PM

More proof that there is a profitable future in space waste management.

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
February 11, 2009 4:01 PM

Cool.

conspiratorial thoughts
Guest
conspiratorial thoughts
February 11, 2009 4:04 PM

or maybe this is political posturing, with the russians proving they have the capability to knock down a satellite, from space.

haven’t the chinese and americans both shot down satellites, from the ground?

Jorge
Guest
February 11, 2009 4:06 PM

I certainly hope this will constitute a wake up call for eveyone who has been downplaying the increasing problem of space junk. Hopefully now something will be done before someone actually dies up there and/or the density of space junk becomes so large that a collision like this starts a chain reaction that wipes out just about everything in LEO.

Frank Glover
Guest
Frank Glover
February 11, 2009 4:19 PM

“or maybe this is political posturing, with the russians proving they have the capability to knock down a satellite, from space.”

They proved they have an ASAT capability quite a long time ago. This satellite was dead and uncontrolled.

hal10000
Member
hal10000
February 11, 2009 4:24 PM

The issue of space debris must be addressed and mitigated.

Or else…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_Syndrome

James
Member
James
February 11, 2009 5:02 PM
Everyone concerned about space junk … ha, with Iran coming online, India, Pakistan, Israel, Brazil, and several other countries waiting in the wings, don’t think things will get better before getting much worse. What will be needed are robotic units that slow pieces down so they fall into quicker decaying orbit. I know it’s not easy matching orbits or if it’s really feasible but if you had something using an Ion engine that could hold an object, slow down, turn lose of it so it slowly, but much quicker than otherwise would have, reenters and burns up in the atmo … hell after a while you could sell tickets for people to match there docking skills in the… Read more »
Salacious B. Crumb
Guest
Salacious B. Crumb
February 11, 2009 5:19 PM
Now. let’s see, I wonder who said; .. 19th November 2008; “Lost in Space: Tool Bag Overboard, Spider Missing” “One of these days the ISS or some large satellite like Hubble is hit by a high velocity piece of orbiting space junk causing explosive decompression, many dead astronauts in orbit, and billions of fragments closing the entire low earth orbit to be out-of-bounds for decades or even centuries.” 20th November; Under the same thread “Clearly the environment off space, especially in lower Earth orbit, isn’t American or Russian territory (or any one country, the volume is shared internationally. No doubt this event might of been a slip up, but the damage of just one item in space is… Read more »
801
Guest
801
February 11, 2009 5:39 PM

I’m pretty sure the so-called ISS picture is a fake. There is no air in space, so that strip of light is impossible: it takes oxygen to burn, or friction to radiate. Both non-existent in space.
ISS is high enough above earth to have at least a tiny fraction of earth in the frame if this strip of light should really be earth-atmosphere induced friction.
Plus the coincidence: are we stupid enough to assume there was someone at Iridium or (NA)(E)SA who contacted ISS a few seconds after collision, saying: get your camera, point it to long and dec, RIGHT NOW!!! grin

sofista
Member
February 11, 2009 5:54 PM

En un hecho sin precedentes, un satélite comercial de comunicaciones Iridium y un satélite ruso fuera de servicio colisionaron el martes a 790 km de altura sobre el norte de Siberia […] Vía Nancy Atkinson para Universe Today […]

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
February 11, 2009 5:57 PM
801 Says: February 11th, 2009 at 5:39 pm 801 – read the caption – this is not a picture of the explosion, it is an Iridium flare. Iridium flares are a well known phenomenon among amateur astronomers and satellite observers whereby an ‘Iridium’ satellite catches the sun and reflects it back to the viewer. Check it out on Google. Iridium satellites are shaped in such a way that they reflect sunlight extremely well. They also rotate, and so when a satellite moves by a particular location, a very bright flare can be seen at the moment it catches the Sun. These flares are actually easy to predict, and there are a number of tools available on the web… Read more »
robbi
Guest
robbi
February 11, 2009 6:13 PM

801- the field of view is far too small to even
think about showing a part of Earth and I’ve seen quite a few indium flares as I’m also
an amateur astonomer-when the weather is clear where I live in Sacramento, Ca,I will check the ‘net if and when a iridium satellite will be visible in the evening sky-even if a iridium satellite is not visible for my location, I spot numerous other type satillites moving slowly before they disappear

Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
February 11, 2009 6:29 PM

Its kinda ironic that space, a place characterized by its emptiness, has grown dangerously full in some parts.

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