Categories: Satellites

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

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.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004. She is the author of a new book on the Apollo program, "Eight Years to the Moon," which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible. Her first book, "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

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