Thursday, February 12, 2009

Two satellites collide in orbit

NASA says two communication satellite collided in the first-ever crash of two intact spacecraft in orbit. The collision occurred tuesday nearly 500 miles over Siberia. The crash produced a pair of massive debris clouds, according to NASA. But officials say any risk to the international space station. which orbits below the collision course is low. NASA also said that it will takes weeks to determine the magnitude of this crash.

The two satellites were an Iridium commercial satellite launched in 1997, and a Russian satellite launched in 1993, which was believed to be non functioning. According to Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, the Russian satellite was out of control. Matney and his team monitor the 9,831 pieces of man made debris currently in orbit around the Earth, each at least four inches in diameter.

The Iridium craft weighed 1,235 pounds, and the Russian craft was nearly 2,000 pounds. So far, Matney's team is counting dozens of pieces, though he suspects by the time everything is accounted for it will be in the hundreds. And if pieces smaller than four inches were included the count would likely be in the thousands.