Dead Russian satellite and discarded Chinese rocket are at ‘very high risk’ of colliding in orbit

Dead Russian satellite and discarded Chinese rocket are at ‘very high risk’ of colliding in orbit this week and could release thousands of new space junk pieces

  • A defunct Russian rocket and dead Chinese rocket are floating in orbit
  • The two appear to be on separate paths that could meet Thursday evening 
  • Experts are concerned that the impact could add up to 20% more space debris 
  • The space junk also pose a threat to functioning satellites currently in orbit 

An out of commission Russian satellite and discarded Chinese rocket floating in orbit more than 600 miles above Earth’s surface have a ‘very high risk’ of colliding Thursday evening.

LeoLabs, a firm that tracks space debris, reveals these objects will pass less than 82 feet apart and shared a model that shows a 20 percent chance of the two smashing into each other.

The objects have a mass of 2.8 metric tons and the impact would add thousands of more pieces of space junk into orbit – anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent more debris.

Although there is no threat on Earth, the added man-made materials pose a significant risk to functioning satellites in orbit.

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An out of commission Russian satellite and discarded Chinese rocket floating in orbit more than 600 miles above Earth’s surface are ‘very high risk’ of colliding

LeoLabs, based in California, shared a model on Twitter announcing the possible collision that is set to occur Thursday.

‘This event continues to be very high risk and will likely stay this way through the time of closest approach,’ the firm shared in the tweet.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell weighed in on the event with a model prediction.

The image shows the Russian Kosmos-2004 moving towards the southern poles above Earth and the Chinese Chang Zheng 4C is heading north over the Falklands.

LeoLabs , a firm that tracks space debris, reveals these objects will pass less than 82 feet apart and shared a model that shows a 20 percent chance of the two smashing into each other

LeoLabs , a firm that tracks space debris, reveals these objects will pass less than 82 feet apart and shared a model that shows a 20 percent chance of the two smashing into each other

The predicts paths suggest the two could eventually meet head on.

McDowell also notes that the two breaking apart during impact will add 10 to 20 percent more space junk into orbit. 

A report released in May shows Russia is responsible for a majority of the pieces floating around in orbit with some 14,403 pieces.

As Russia has contributed the most in the past two years, but the country has recently dumped 65 more pieces into orbit.

A rocket used to launch a scientific satellite into space has broken apart after nine years in orbit broke apart earlier this month and left dozens of pieces of debris around Earth.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell weighed in on the event with a model prediction. The image shows the Russian Kosmos-2004 moving towards the southern poles above Earth and the Chinese Chang Zheng 4C is heading north over the Falklands

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell weighed in on the event with a model prediction. The image shows the Russian Kosmos-2004 moving towards the southern poles above Earth and the Chinese Chang Zheng 4C is heading north over the Falklands

An experts notes that the two breaking apart during impact will add 10 to 20 percent more space junk into orbit These pieces can destroy satellites, telescopes, spacecraft

An experts notes that the two breaking apart during impact will add 10 to 20 percent more space junk into orbit These pieces can destroy satellites, telescopes, spacecraft

The Fregat-SB is a type of space tug and its upper stage was left floating after it helped deliver the Spektr-R satellite in 2011, according to Roscosmos.

Spektr-R was a radio telescope launched by the Russian space agency but it stopped responding to ground control last year and was declared dead in May 2019.

Roscosmos confirmed the breakdown of the rocket happened on May 8 somewhere above the Indian Ocean.

These pieces can destroy satellites, telescopes, spacecraft and one NASA scientist fears they could eventually create the Kessler syndrome.

This theoretical scenario was proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978, which says the density of objects in low-Earth orbit could increase to a point where collisions occur that generates more space debris to the point that it is dangerous for humans to venture off the planet.

A recent study has proposed a way to limit the number of satellites in space to help decrease the growing space debris problem

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder say an international agreement would be needed in order to charge operators ‘orbital use fees’ for every device launched into orbit.

The amount charged would increase each year to 2040 up to $235,000, according to the team, who say the orbit becomes clearer each year, reducing the risk costs.

WHAT IS SPACE JUNK? MORE THAN 170 MILLION PIECES OF DEAD SATELLITES, SPENT ROCKETS AND FLAKES OF PAINT POSE ‘THREAT’ TO SPACE INDUSTRY

There are an estimated 170 million pieces of so-called ‘space junk’ – left behind after missions that can be as big as spent rocket stages or as small as paint flakes – in orbit alongside some US$700 billion (£555bn) of space infrastructure.

But only 22,000 are tracked, and with the fragments able to travel at speeds above 16,777 mph (27,000kmh), even tiny pieces could seriously damage or destroy satellites.

However, traditional gripping methods don’t work in space, as suction cups do not function in a vacuum and temperatures are too cold for substances like tape and glue.

Grippers based around magnets are useless because most of the debris in orbit around Earth is not magnetic.

Dead Russian satellite and discarded Chinese rocket are at 'very high risk' of colliding in orbit 1

Around 500,000 pieces of human-made debris (artist’s impression) currently orbit our planet, made up of disused satellites, bits of spacecraft and spent rockets

Most proposed solutions, including debris harpoons, either require or cause forceful interaction with the debris, which could push those objects in unintended, unpredictable directions.

Scientists point to two events that have badly worsened the problem of space junk.

The first was in February 2009, when an Iridium telecoms satellite and Kosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite, accidentally collided.

The second was in January 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite weapon on an old Fengyun weather satellite.

Experts also pointed to two sites that have become worryingly cluttered.

One is low Earth orbit which is used by satnav satellites, the ISS, China’s manned missions and the Hubble telescope, among others.

The other is in geostationary orbit, and is used by communications, weather and surveillance satellites that must maintain a fixed position relative to Earth. 

 

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