- A discarded Chinese rocket scene and a Soviet-era satellite nearly collided over Earth overnight.
- The collision would create a huge amount of new space debris and worsen our current space debris.
- As we continue to launch more and more satellites, the potential for space debris to affect crew missions is increasing.
In case you haven’t heard: Space junk is becoming a real problem. There is so much artificial debris in Earth’s orbit that it actually poses a threat to future space missions and even current programs like the International Space Station. This is bad and with companies like SpaceX planning to launch thousands of satellites on a regular basis, it will only get worse.
On Thursday night, the seriousness of our space debris became clear when an old missile scene from a Chinese mission seemed about to collide with an already dead Soviet satellite. Scientists observing the two objects reduced the numbers and found that there is more than a 1
I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, so an old, dead Soviet satellite nearly hit a piece of Chinese missile. And what? “
While it is true that none of the pieces of debris were functional or even important to ongoing operations, the collision could still have been catastrophic. You see, when man-made objects in space collide with each other at high speed, as a result, they create even more debris. This means that two large objects become tens, hundreds or even thousands of smaller but still dangerous objects that continue to orbit the Earth.
We observe a very high risk match between two large non-existent objects in LEO. Multiple data points show the missed distance <25m and Pc between 1% and 20%. The combined mass of the two items is ~ 2,800 kg.
Object 1: 19826
Object 2: 36123
TCA: October 16 00: 56UTC
Altitude of the event: 991 km pic.twitter.com/6yWDx7bziw
– LeoLabs, Inc. (@LeoLabs_Space) October 13, 2020
Even these smaller objects can create serious problems for space missions, as something as small as a high-speed bolt can cause incredible damage if it hits a vital space machine. If, God forbid, a manned spacecraft encounters or is struck by a small, fast-moving piece of metal as it makes its way to the space station or the moon, the results can be catastrophic.
On top of that, the smaller the object, the harder it is to trace from Earth. Two large objects are a problem, of course, but a thousand smaller objects moving at different speeds and in new directions can cause a crash.
The good news, of course, is that the satellite and rocket scene did not collide. However, the risk of such an event will not disappear soon. Several countries have suggested ways to clean up Earth’s orbit and remove larger pieces of space debris, but little progress has been made so far.