This isn’t supposed to happen, but it did. Thanks to AGI for the cool video simulation.
Two low-earth orbit spacecraft — Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 — collided this week and were destroyed:
A few minutes before 5 a.m. GMT on Wednesday, a US Iridium communications satellite and a defunct Russian military communications satellite smashed into each other, creating at least 600 pieces of debris that each could strike other satellites. It was the first time that two intact orbiting spacecraft have crashed into each other, say officials.
For its part, Iridium, whose network of 66 satellites – make that 65 – provides global coverage for handheld phones, denies that the collision is their fault, and says that any disruption in service will be brief and should be completely remedied by the end of the week.
The Associated Press quotes Russian space journalist Igor Lisov, who wondered why Iridium, whose satellite was perfectly functional and could maneuver, didn’t try to move their bird out of the way.
According to the Voice of America, the official external broadcasting service of the US government, Russian officials say that debris from the collision pose no threat to the International Space Station or its three crewmembers, who are orbiting about 270 miles below the crash. The Pentagon says that it has not yet identified any threats to its own satellites, but added that tracking small objects in space is very difficult.
Reuters quotes Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former head of the Pentagon’s space operations, who warns that those with satellites will “have to play a little bit of dodgeball for many tens of years to come” to avoid debris from this collision. General Cartwright says that the good news is that the orbit of this debris will be predictable, eventually; the bad news is that the fragments of the satellites cover a large area.
Expect space insurance rates to increase.
I’m surprised there wasn’t more cooperation between the two operators. Government agencies and/or commercial operators usually set aside any differences and share any data related to spacecraft expected to pass near others. Same for orbiting debris — they all know where it is and where it will be at any point in time. Now we’ve got more debris to deal with.