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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Two satellites collide in space over Siberia

At least 600 pieces of spaceborne shrapnel are now plaguing the sky, no thanks to an unprecedented collision between two satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Early yesterday, 790 kilometers (490 miles) above Siberia, an inoperative Russian satellite called Cosmos 2251 smashed into Iridium33, a communications satellite. Ground radar is now tracking the hundreds of resulting bits of debris, hoping that none of it will smash into any other satellites or the International Space Station.

When asked which satellite was at fault, NASA scientist Nicholas Johnson said, "they ran into each other. Nothing has the right of way up there. We don't have an air traffic controller in space. There is no universal way of knowing what's coming in your direction."

The good news, if there is any, is that Iridium Satellite LLC still has 64 satellites in unusually low orbit, relaying calls between special satellite phones (the U.S. Department of Defense is one of its biggest customers).

I wonder if one of them was trying to speed through an intersection...