Digital News Report- Two communications satellites have collided over Siberia putting the international space station at a slight risk. A U.S. communications satellite owned by Iridium Satellite LLC and an old Russian satellite that was no longer in use were in low orbit on Tuesday when the incident occurred.
Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at Johnson Space Center in Houston, told the Associated Press, “We knew this was going to happen eventually.” Matney also said that they believe that the Satellites are in hundreds and possibly thousands of pieces. The debris has put many other satellites at risk, as well as the Hubble Space telescope.
The international space station orbits at about 270 miles below where the satellites collided. NASA believes the risk is minimal and that a shuttle launch scheduled for February 22 should also be unaffected. However, they will be monitoring the situation closely for the next few days.
Nicholas Johnson, an orbital debris expert at the Houston space center, has said there were roughly 17,000 pieces of manmade debris orbiting Earth at the beginning of the year, Johnson said. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network tracks items that are at least 4 inches in size. Most of the debris from this incident should burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
According to NASA, there have been four other cases in which space objects have collided accidentally in orbit. However, those incidents were considered minor and involved parts of spent rockets or small satellites.
Iridium released a statement saying, “Although this event has minimal impact on Iridium’s service, the company is taking immediate action to address the loss.” Iridium Satellite operates 66 satellites to support satellite telephone operations around the world.