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Near Miss! Space Debris Avoids Collision In Low-Earth Orbit

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Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

author

Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

Alfredo (he/him) has a PhD in Astrophysics on galaxy evolution and a Master's in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces.

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

Mike Mareen/Shutterstock.com

A defunct Russian satellite and a piece of a Chinese rocket got incredibly close in the early hours of October 16. The two risked a collision that would have created a swarm of debris, which likely would have led to more collisions.

Space debris tracking company LeoLabs reports that when the Chinese rocket fragment flew over the company’s radar in New Zealand, it appeared to be in one piece, suggesting the collision didn’t happen.

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The two objects in question are moving at 14.7 kilometers (9.1 miles) per second and had a combined mass of about 2,800 kilograms (6,170 pounds). Their collision could have been quite significant, getting us closer to the so-called Kessler Syndrome. Given that every collision between space junk produces more debris, there is a real and present danger that the number of collisions grows exponentially and makes entire regions of space inaccessible to humans and spacecraft alike.

The danger remains low for now, but without proper plans for the end of life of satellites, this will continue to be a major problem.


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