Thursday, February 12, 2009

Satellites Collide

The Huffington Post reported on the collision which took place of two satellites in space.
Two big communications satellites collided in the first-ever crash of its kind in orbit, shooting out a pair of massive debris clouds and posing a slight risk to the international space station. NASA said it will take weeks to determine the full magnitude of the crash, which occurred nearly 500 miles over Siberia on Tuesday.

"We knew this was going to happen eventually," said Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

One of the objects involved was an active satellite operated by Iridium Holdings LLC. The other is believed to have been a defunct Russian satellite. The crash generated additional "space junk," the extent of which scientists are studying.
At the beginning of this year there were roughly 17,000 pieces of manmade debris orbiting Earth, Johnson said. The items, at least 4 inches in size, are being tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, which is operated by the military. The network detected the two debris clouds created Tuesday.

Litter in orbit has increased in recent years, in part because of the deliberate breakups of old satellites. It's gotten so bad that orbital debris is now the biggest threat to a space shuttle in flight, surpassing the dangers of liftoff and return to Earth.

Are you at all concerned about this? Is the problem of space pollution too far removed from the never-ending problems we have right here on Earth? Do you think we're doing the same thing in space that we've always done on the Earth, environmentally?

The article said the Iridium Company has 65 satellites orbiting the planet, including "eight in-orbit spares," from which a replacement will be selected. It's cute how this mega-company refers to their fleet of satellites as a "constellation."
"The Iridium constellation is healthy, and this event is not the result of a failure on the part of Iridium or its technology," the company said in a statement.

Wikipedia adds this: "The SSN [Space Surveillance Network] currently tracks more than 8,000 man-made orbiting objects."

Does any of that bother you?


  1. Most of it burns up in the atmosphere, and space is a very big place, even just the space confined to standard Earth Orbits.

  2. i'm worried that satellite manufacturers might have to start building their satellites more sturdily, to survive impacts from smaller pieces in the not-yet-tracked size range of less than four inches. that would dramatically increase the cost of satellites, and especially of launching them.

  3. Just launch a big-friggin electro Magnet have it "fish" for a month, the take a swan dive into the Pasific.

    Let us all know when it's going to do it, I bet it'll look pretty!

  4. when i read this article this morning in the paper, i thought the same thing.

    we are slowly and steadfastily polluting space. its a drop in a huge bucket now, but i'm sure we'll make it worse...

  5. The space junk is ridiculous. There should be only a few large objects in the orbit and have the satellite companies design their devices to attach to the large object (magnet or whatever). Otherwise it should be perfectly legal to shoot them down or ... farther up :-)

  6. There should be only a few large objects in the orbit and have the satellite companies design their devices to attach to the large object

    orbital space doesn't work that way, no.

    that said, "space junk" is bit of a misnomer, because it isn't as if this were actual pollution we're talking about here. there's no outer space ecosystem we're poisoning with this, there aren't any lives being lost (yet --- not directly enough for most of us to worry, anyway), the only ones who're really hurt by it are the folks who launch and operate satellites --- and they only in the pocketbook.

    of course, that could eventually end up costing lives indirectly if things got bad enough. the iridium constellation runs satellite telephones worldwide; if that were lost, somebody might well end up dead for the lack of it.

    oh, and also: blogger delenda est! (what for did i get a shiny new account if blogger won't even take it? it claims to take openid logins. it just doesn't work with myopenid apparently. this is because blogger fucking SUCKS!)

  7. Nomen, I often have trouble commenting over at Weer'd's site, but I thought it was some kind of leftie filter he'd installed or something.

    Welcome Mr. P.

  8. Hehhehe More than half of my readers are lefties, Mike.

    Nope, I just have an Ex-Pat filter, ever since I had some trouble with a Tennessee Threeper who emigrated to El Salvador.....