Feb 13, 2009 | 4
Officials say that the crash this week between a U.S. commercial communications satellite and a defunct Russian satellite generated possibly thousands of pieces of debris that will hang around in low-Earth orbit for years. Vladimir Solovyov, chief of the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS), told reporters today that "debris from the collision could stay in orbit for up to 10,000 years, and even tiny fragments threaten spacecraft, because both travel at such a high orbiting speed." But Nicholas Johnson, NASA's chief scientist for space debris, says that's not correct. "Most of the debris will be down in decades, some perhaps as long as 100 or more years," Johnson says. He adds that NASA is waiting on military orbit monitors to assess the scene before making an estimated debris count.
Feb 11, 2009 | 19
A commercial satellite collided with a Russian satellite over Siberia yesterday, yielding a cloud of fragments, according to a NASA scientist tracking space debris. The collision between the commercial satellite, belonging to the American communications firm Iridium, and the Russian satellite, believed to be defunct based on its advanced age, was the first of its kind, says Nicholas Johnson, chief scientist at the NASA Orbital Debris Program at Johnson Space Center in Houston. (A spokesperson for Iridium said a statement on the incident would be released shortly.)*
"In the past almost 20 years, there have been three other accidental collisions between objects in orbit, but they've all been very minor," Johnson says. "The most debris ever produced in an event was like four debris, and this is two intact spacecraft colliding, and we have hundreds of debris out there. We don't know exactly how many yet."
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