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The NASA satellite’s ‘shocking’ near miss was even closer than thought

Vaseline 4 weeks ago

NEW DELHI: NASA’s TIMED spacecraft and the defunct Russian spy satellite Cosmos 2221 had an alarmingly close encounter in orbit, reported. Initial estimates showed that the two satellites passed within a radius of 20 meters. However, further analysis showed that the actual distance was even closer, with the satellites coming within just 10 meters of each other, NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said.

Melroy expressed her personal shock and the concern shared by NASA officials, saying, “If the two satellites had collided, we would have seen a significant amount of debris created – small shards traveling tens of thousands of miles per hour, waiting to poke a hole in another spacecraft, potentially endangering human lives.”

The issue of space debris is not just a hypothetical concern. In August 2021, the Chinese military satellite Yunhai 1-02 was hit by a piece of space debris, likely a fragment of a Russian Zenit-2 rocket launched in 1996. While such collisions remain rare, near misses like the one involving TIMED are becoming increasingly common. is becoming more common as Earth’s orbit becomes busier.

There are currently approximately 11,500 satellites in orbit, of which 9,000 are operational, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). More than half of these functional satellites belong to SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network, which now consists of nearly 5,800 satellites. In addition to active satellites, there are an estimated 36,500 pieces of space debris larger than 10 centimeters and more than 130 million fragments larger than 1 millimeter in Earth’s orbit.

NASA has worked to alleviate the space debris problem over the years, with efforts including implementing “common sense” practices like passivating the upper stages of rockets in orbit to reduce their explosive potential. However, the agency recognizes the need for further action and has developed an integrated ‘space sustainability strategy’, the first part of which was released on the same day as Melroy’s presentation.

(With input from agencies)