Dead Russian satellite almost crashes into NASA spacecraft at a speed of 28,165 km/h

The other day, there was a tense moment in low-Earth orbit for space security. Two satellites, NASA’s TIMED spacecraft and the Russian Cosmos 2221, which has been non-functional since 1992, flew very close to each other. This incident has raised concerns about the risks associated with space debris.

Satellite in low Earth orbit. Photo: NASA

According to LeoLabs, a company specializing in tracking objects in low orbit, a dangerous situation occurred on the night of February 27-28. Both satellites intersected at an altitude of about 608 km above the surface of the planet at a distance of 20 meters from each other at a speed of 28,165 km/h.

Experts admit that both vehicles did not have sufficient maneuverability to avoid a potential collision, which left ground observers with only the opportunity to observe without the chance to intervene. 

Simulation of a satellite collision in near-Earth orbit. Animation: ESA

If the satellites had collided, it would have led to significant debris formation, NASA noted. As a result of the collision, at least 7 thousand separate fragments could be formed. There are already about 12,000 fragments in low Earth orbit, and this incident could significantly increase their number.

LeoLabs noted that such dangerous events were rare, but their risk increased due to the accumulation of space debris in near-Earth orbits. Meanwhile, over the past two years, there have been six cases where the distance between the satellites was less than 20 meters. This incident raises growing concerns about space debris and the need to improve monitoring and mitigation strategies to ensure the safety of space missions.

According to experts, the new rules of the US Federal Communications Commission, which require the decommissioning of satellites within five years after the completion of the mission, can help reduce the number of such incidents and the risk of space debris.

To date, only one incident involving a satellite collision is known. This happened in 2009, when the American Iridium 33 communications satellite and the waste Russian military satellite Cosmos-2251 collided in orbit at an altitude of about 789 kilometers above Siberia. According to NASA, this is the most serious satellite accident, which resulted in more than 1,800 fragments larger than 10 centimeters.

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