It wasn’t that long ago, I was writing about the alarming possible scenarios of Kessler syndrome and ablation cascades around Earth. Unnervingly, and almost one year after a UN report about such events, a satellite collision over Siberia last Tuesday (Feb 10th) seems to make the possibility slightly more real.
Two clouds of debris are currently in orbit around the Earth, consisting of over 500 fragments with over 100 of the largest being tracked from Earth. The source — a collision between the defunct Russian Kosmos 2251 satellite and the American Iridium 33 satellite. Iridium 33, incidentally, was an operational communications satellite. Was. Both craft were destroyed in the collision.
In the following 48 hours, a “clumpy ring” of debris has spread across both orbits. Obviously, this poses quite a hazard for any other satellites in similar orbits (and a lot of communication satellites tend to orbit at similar altitudes). The collision happened at 800km, which is too high up to pose any serious danger to the International Space Station (at a low 350km altitude). It’s slightly concerning for Hubble at 610km though. It certainly raises some concerns for scientific instruments in more eccentric orbits, such as IBEX and Chandra too.
Most people aren’t actually too aware of hazardous space junk (even those who probably should be). Hopefully this might motivate a few people into trying to clear up the orbital garbage surrounding Earth. Humanity’s influence on this planet, so it seems, doesn’t stop with the atmosphere…