Pieces Of Orbiting Space Junk Set For Very Close Pass

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Pieces Of Orbiting Space Junk Set For Very Close Pass

Two pieces of old space junk may come within 25m of each other, according to a Silicon Valley start-up which uses radars to track objects in orbit.

LeoLabs has been monitoring the paths of a defunct Russian satellite and a discarded Chinese rocket segment.

It sees them converging over Antarctica at 00:56 GMT (01:56 BST) on Friday.

Other experts who’ve looked at the available data think Kosmos-2004 and the ChangZheng rocket stage will pass with a far greater separation.

With a combined mass at over 2.5 tonnes and relative velocity of 14.66km/s (32,800mph), any collision would be catastrophic and produce a shower of debris.

And given the altitude of almost 1,000km, the resulting fragments would stay around for an extremely long time, posing a threat to operational satellites.

Dr Moriba Jah, an astrodynamicist at the University of Texas at Austin, has worked out the miss distance to be about 70m.

And the Aerospace Corporation, a highly respected consultancy, comes to a similar conclusion.

With more and more satellites being launched, there’s certainly growing concern about the potential for collisions.

The big worry is the burgeoning population of redundant hardware in orbit – some 900,000 objects larger than 1cm by some counts – and all of it capable of doing immense damage to, or even destroying, an operational spacecraft in a high-velocity encounter.

This week, the European Space Agency released its annualĀ State of the Space Environment report.

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It highlighted the ongoing problem of fragmentation events.

These include explosions in orbit caused by left-over energy – in fuel and batteries – aboard old spacecraft and rockets.

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On average over the last two decades, 12 accidental fragmentations have occurred in space every year – “and this trend is unfortunately increasing”, the agency said.

Also this week, at the online International Astronautical Congress, a group of experts listed what they regarded asĀ the 50 most concerning derelict objects in orbit.

A large proportion of them were old Russian, or Soviet-era, Zenit rocket stages.

Pieces Of Orbiting Space Junk Set For Very Close Pass

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