Chinese rocket and Russian satellite could collide at 53,000 km / h tonight

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The Earth’s orbit is increasingly congested and possible collisions between space waste abandoned to its fate begin to be normal. Thus, an old Chinese drifting rocket and an unmanned Russian military satellite will pass tonight within a radius of 12 meters from each other. According to the LeoLabs space debris location service, this meeting will take place at 0: 56h (continental Portugal time) this Friday.

According to the agency, there is more than a 10% chance that the two objects will collide at an altitude of 991 kilometers above the Weddell Sea, just off the Antarctic Peninsula.

Satellite and rocket are trash abandoned in space

Space debris, fragments left by the launchings of the past and dangerous debris are increasingly common in Earth's orbit. Thus, we are again on the verge of watching an accident involving vehicles placed in space and no longer useful.

The two bodies have considerable mass. They weigh almost three tonnes and travel at a speed of 14.7 kilometers per second (about 53,000 kilometers per hour). Specifically, one of the players is a stranded rocket, part of the Long March 4B, launched on May 10, 1999.

The other object involved is a Russian military satellite, Parus, which weighs about 825 kg and was launched on February 22, 1989 for communications and navigation. However, as this satellite is no longer operational, it is not possible to communicate with it and deviate its trajectory to avoid a collision.

This is probably one of the worst accidental collisions we've seen in a long time.

Science archaeologist Alice Gorman of Flinders University in Australia told ScienceAlert.

Simulations don't rule out the worst, but there is no risk to Earth (for now)

LeoLab engineers simulated the course of the two bodies, which will literally "rub" each other almost 1,000 kilometers above our heads:

This is not the first time that such an episode has occurred this year. As we announced, in January, two drifting satellites passed a distance of 15 to 30 meters from each other. At the time, there was a likelihood of a collision, albeit minimal. On that occasion, the two crossed without causing any damage to each other.

Now, the likelihood of a disaster is increasing, although experts confirm that there is no risk for us on Earth. However, even if a violent collision occurs, the result should be a shower of small debris. And these would disintegrate in the atmosphere.

We cannot actively remove space debris like this yet, so it will be present for some time. However, at an altitude of about 1,000 kilometers, this material will not fully enter the atmosphere in a matter of weeks or months, so it is likely to remain for quite some time.

Explica Gorman.

Kessler syndrome

Although the rate of collisions between space debris at this time is very small, there is a worrying theory about what could happen in the future called "Kessler syndrome".

This is a hypothesis created by NASA astrophysicist Donald Kessler in 1978, who claims that with a large amount of debris in space, at any moment there will be a cascade of uncontrolled collisions that will make space close to Earth's orbit impractical.

We haven't gotten there yet, but how much time do we have until we get there?

Gorman asks himself.

Although the impact is the worst case scenario, the presence of debris in space remains a problem. That is why space agencies are working on different projects to find solutions not only to stop generating space waste, but also to eliminate existing waste.

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