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Developing: Collision in Space

They say that it was bound to happen. But in what can only be described as a high speed crash on the Intergallactical Highway between a Russian military satellite and an American commercial satellite from Iridium, has created what officials are describing as a shotgun cloud of space debris. The crash created thousands of pieces of space debris that now threaten the International Space Station, the space shuttle and Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists note that it could take decades for these fragments to start to hit the Earth. The increased risk however, is not being assessed as significant. It may affect the space shuttle Discovery mission.

The U.S. and Russian communications satellites collided at an altitude just below 500 miles, or on the fringes of a belt around the Earth extending to 625 miles high. The region is populated with weather and other Earth observation satellites as well as military spy satellites and some unmanned communications spacecraft. The region looms just above the Hubble Space Telescope.

What may be more significant is the reaction of Russian space experts to this first known example of a satellite collision in space that occurred above Siberia in the lower earth atmosphere.

It was unclear yesterday why the US and Russian satellites collided. One expert questioned why the Iridium satellite had not manoeuvred to avoid the defunct Russian satellite.

"The American Iridium apparatus, unlike the Russian satellite, had an engine and enough fuel supply. It is unknown why the American satellite did not manoeuvre upon coming into the vicinity of the Russian satellite," said Igor Lisov, a Russia-based expert on space rockets.

"Perhaps the company Iridium did not receive the warning of the probability of a collision, or perhaps they ignored it. The fact is, however, that the American satellite could have been moved to avoid the collision and for some reason it wasn't."

Surprising is that the US tracks over 18,000 pieces of space objects including debris and 800 satellites launched by over 40 countries. Notable also is that the Russian satellite stopped operating in 1995.

This may not relate directly to a "threat" or homeland security per se, but does begin to describe a future problem.


I'm surprised that no one mentioned one possible cause for the collision, a deliberate manuevering of one of the birds to intercept the other.

Of course, neither the Russians or the US Government has publicly complained about a sudden change in orbit, so this is not likely to be the cause of the collision. But, it is something worth thinking about.

Actually, though, the "reports" suggest that no maneuvers were detected. That doesn't mean that the opposite wasn't true, with the very important fact reported that the Russian satellite was inoperable, so why take it out?

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