On Thursday (15), two large pieces of space debris were on a collision course at a speed of 52,950 km / h, and they were expected to collide during the night. The impact between what remains of the former Soviet satellite Soviet Parus and the propulsion of a Chinese rocket seems to have been close by, and LeoLabs, a company that tracks space debris, will collect new data to make sure there is no new debris in orbit , which would have been generated by the impact.
LeoLabs had predicted that the two objects would pass just 12 meters away from each other, putting the chances of a collision above 10% and, fortunately, they don’t seem to have hit each other, since if they had collided, they would have generated a cloud debris that could hit other satellites. “With the collision, the debris parts end up in elliptical orbits at which they cross various altitudes,” explains John McDowell, an astronomer and satellite tracker at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This is worrying, because these pieces are not on safe routes.
Data from the most recent event updates show miss distance of 25 meters (+/- 18 meters at 1-sigma uncertainty). We will gather observation data tonight from the first radar pass after TCA to hopefully confirm no new debris is detected.
— LeoLabs, Inc. (@LeoLabs_Space) October 15, 2020
Even so, there are several objects in trajectories whose collision cannot be avoided. In the case of the satellite and what remains of the propellant, the collision could have caused a phenomenon called Kessler Syndrome, where the impact debris begins to hit other satellites and initiates a kind of domino effect of destruction. McDowell points out that these collisions are rarer today: “Typically, you would have some propulsion on the satellite so that at the end of the mission it is possible to decrease the orbit enough for it to re-enter and fall into the sea or burn.”
Usually, close passages like this usually happen once or twice a year, and collisions happen about once a decade. However, with more and more satellites in orbit, it is possible that the number of collisions will increase. “Unless we take action, the problem will get worse,” he concludes. Anyway, it is certain that the orbital debris represents a worrying problem, because it can reach ships, satellites and endanger the safety of astronauts. There are some initiatives to seek a solution to the problem, such as the Gateway Earth Development Group (GEDG) that would do a kind of cleaning in space.
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