Tuesday, 02 March, 2021


2 satellites will narrowly avoid colliding over Pennsylvania on Wednesday

IRAS satellite 2 satellites will narrowly avoid colliding over Pennsylvania on Wednesday
Kristine Garrett | 30 January, 2020, 05:06

There is a possibility that two inactive satellites now in low Earth orbit will collide on Wednesday above the US, according to space debris tracking service LeoLabs.

These satellites are the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), an old space telescope launched by NASA, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom; and the GGSE-4 gravitational experiment launched by the US Air Force. In 1983, it ran out of fuel and died, continuing to encircle Earth by virtue of momentum in a near-frictionless vacuum. On the other hand, the Gravity Gradient Stabilization Experiment (GGSE-4) is much lighted weighing just 85 kg. The two satellites are probably not going to hammer into one another, said LeoLabs CEO Dan Ceperley. The space telescope was launched in 1983, and the payload launched in 1967, according to LeoLabs. It's progressively unordinary, however, for two full-size satellites to come this nearby in space.

The metrics show a predicted missed distance between 15 and 30 meters, reported LeoLabs Inc. Measuring 3.6 x 3.2 x 2.1 metres, the satellite is roughly the same size as a truck.

IRAS is 11.8 feet long and the combined size of the two objects "greatly increases the probability of a collision".

"Events like this highlight the need for responsible, timely deorbiting of satellites for space sustainability moving forward", LeoLabs said in a tweet.

DeClerck said LeoLabs will continue to monitor the orbits in the coming hours of the time of closest approach (TCA), and there could be revisions to the orbits.

LeoLabs said the chance of collision is about 1-in-1,000. Its initial estimate was that there was a 1 percent chance of collision.

Uncertainty can be introduced through the minute bias' of individual radars, the models determining gravitational effects, and even how the atmosphere creates drag on the satellites, whose orientations are unknown.

The IRAS satellite could collide with a military satellite over Pennsylvania on Wednesday evening.

"This is one of the closest that we have ever seen", Roger Thompson, a senior engineering specialist at The Aerospace Corporation, told Business Insider.

The situation has renewed discussions over the importance of cleaning up space debris.

The last large collision of satellites happened in 2009, when a U.S. commercial Iridium spacecraft hit a defunct Russian satellite over Siberia, producing thousands of pieces of debris.

That debris could spread out of control into more orbits, potentially damaging other objects and making space a unsafe place to navigate for future space missions. The rise of megaconstellations, such as SpaceX's Starlink, will result in thousands more satellites. Launched in 1967 and deactivated in 1972, it has been part of the cloud of space junk around our planet for almost 48 years. The two spacecraft are in "counterrotating" orbits, meaning a collision would effectively be head-on, at an estimated relative velocity of 14.9 kilometers per second. Two such defunct satellites might be headed for a collision this week. There were reports of bright lights in the sky over Kentucky, and loud booms.

One possible solution was recently put forth by researchers at the University of Cincinnati, who are working to develop a new robotic network of spacecraft that could fix and refuel aging satellites in Earth orbit.

Diagram showing the projected distance between the two satellites.

Regardless if a collision happens tonight or not, this possibility will become more acute in the future as more satellites are sent into space. To put that in perspective, there are a little over 2,000 satellites in orbit right now.

The last time a major satellite collision occurred was in 2009.

"In terms of normal operations satellites, one in 10,000 is considered something that you want to take a very close look at".

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