Summary List Placement
A dead Soviet satellite and a discarded Chinese rocket body are speeding toward each other in space and could crash catastrophically on Thursday.
LeoLabs, a company that uses radar to track satellites and debris in space, said on Tuesday night that it was monitoring a “very high-risk” conjunction — an intersection in the two objects’ orbits around Earth. A series of observations since Friday have shown that the two large pieces of space junk could miss each other by just 12 meters (39 feet).
That proximity led LeoLabs to calculate a 10% chance that the objects will collide at 8:56 p.m. ET on Thursday. If they do, the explosion would send bits of debris rocketing in all directions.
A 10% chance may seem low, but NASA routinely moves the International Space Station when the orbiting laboratory faces just a 0.001% (1-in-100,000) chance or greater of colliding with an object.
Since the Soviet satellite and Chinese rocket body are both defunct, nobody can move them out of each other’s way. The odds of a crash will likely change as they approach each other, though LeoLabs expects the risk to stay high.
A collision would probably not pose a danger to anybody on Earth, since the satellites are 991 kilometers (616 miles) above the ground and are set to cross paths above Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. But the debris the crash would create could cause major problems in space.
“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,” Dan Ceperley, the CEO of LeoLabs, told Business Insider. “It’s maybe a much bigger problem than a lot of people realize.”
Experts at The Aerospace Corporation ran their own numbers for the two objects on Wednesday and calculated a much lower chance of collision: just 1 in 250,000 million.
“I don’t mean to throw any shade whatsoever on [LeoLabs’] process or their sensors or anything else,” Ted Muelhaupt, who oversees The Aerospace Corporation’s space-debris analysis, told Business Insider. “But the sensors, the data we have access to says we’re pretty confident [the satellites] are not going to hit.”
Roger Thompson, a senior engineering specialist at the corporation, added: “My guess is probably by the end of today or tomorrow morning, our numbers and their numbers will be much closer.”
Space collisions make clouds of dangerous high-speed debris
Nearly 130 million bits of space junk currently surround Earth, from abandoned satellites, spacecraft that broke apart, and other missions. That debris travels at roughly 10 times the speed of a bullet, which is fast enough to inflict disastrous damage to vital equipment, no matter how small the pieces.
Such a hit could kill astronauts on a spacecraft.
Collisions between pieces of space junk make the problem worse since they fragment objects into smaller pieces.
“Each time there’s a big collision, it’s a big change in the LEO [low-Earth orbit] environment,” Ceperley …read more
Source:: Businessinsider – Tech