How the Fermi Spacecraft Almost Got Taken Out by a Relic of the Cold War

Article written: 1 May , 2013
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

As a space telescope scientist or satellite operator, the last thing you want to hear is that your expensive and possibly one-of-a kind — maybe irreplaceable — spacecraft is in danger of colliding with a piece of space junk. On March 29, 2012, scientists from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope were notified that their spacecraft was at risk from a collision. And the object heading towards the Fermi spacecraft at a relative speed of 44,000 km/h (27,000 mph) wasn’t just a fleck of paint or tiny bolt.

Fermi was facing a possible direct hit by a 1,400 kg (3,100-pound) defunct Russian spy satellite dating back to the Cold War, named Cosmos 1805. If the two satellites met in orbit, the collision would release as much energy as two and a half tons of high explosives, destroying both spacecraft and creating more pieces of space junk in the process.

But this story has a happy ending, with the Fermi telescope still operating and continuing its mission to map the highest-energy light in the universe, all thanks to a little orbital traffic control.

You can watch the video here for the complete story, or read more at the Fermi website about how the Fermi Space Telescope dodged a speeding bullet.

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9 Responses

  1. Grimbold says

    We need to get an international agreement that any new satellite must have the ability to deorbit and burn up once its mission is over.

    • Tony Trenton says

      Typical crisis management !!!

      When will we learn that the ‘attitude of crisis management , creates the crisis in the first place’.

  2. "Me" says

    For years I have tried to feed the idea we need a safe way to remove these obsolete Sats(any kind). Some suggested “low-orbit-re-entry-burn-up”. Some say “self-destruct”. It must be done correctly w/all parts to be completely disintegrated if chosen to self destruct. Something must be done with in the next few years. …PEACE!

    • Tony Trenton says

      Ge the Mafia involved . They have been into garbage collection for years .

      • "Me" says

        lol..Marfia….Thatta boy Tony! Marfia….lol Great come back! The Big Apple to Chitown & points south & west. The mob actually were into garbage big time. Unions! I woinder what “local” they’ll be under?…lol. It was a front years ago & a good one too! I can just picture them now floating around shooting at a Russian spy Sats. Hey, they’ll do a great job too. End of the Sats as we know it….lol. take care buddy.

  3. Umm March 29, 2012… are we a little low on recent news?

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