OUTER SPACE: Satellite Hit By Chinese Debris Highlights Space Ju - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

OUTER SPACE: Satellite Hit By Chinese Debris Highlights Space Junk Threat

Posted: Updated:

YAHOO.COM - The apparent destruction of a small Russian satellite six weeks ago highlights the growing threat space junk poses to activities in low-Earth orbit, experts say.

The satellite and space junk crash involved Russia's Ball Lens In The Space nanosatellite, or BLITS, which likely collided on Jan. 22 with a piece of orbital debris spawned by a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test, SPACE.com reported Friday (March 8). The event adds another name to the list of spacecraft that have had run-ins with space junk.

"It's not the wake-up call — we've had too many of those already," said Brian Weeden, a technical adviser with the Secure World Foundation, an organization dedicated to the peaceful use of outer space.

"Many satellites in LEO [low-Earth orbit] are having to maneuver on a regular basis to avoid threatening close approaches with debris," Weeden told SPACE.com via email. "This is just one more data point that shatters the myth of the 'big sky' theory regarding space activities and shows that debris is one of the most pressing threats satellite operators in LEO have to contend with." [Watch the Animation: Russian Satellite Hit by Space Junk]

To illustrate his point, Weeden pointed to an article written in 2009 by David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Wright documents three previous known cases of an active satellite being struck by space junk — once each in 1996, 2007 and 2009 (when a U.S. telecommunications craft was destroyed by a collision with a dead Russian military satellite).

"Because of the large number of active satellites in space (more than 900) and the very large amount of debris, we estimate that a collision between a piece of debris larger than 1 cm (0.4 inch) with some active satellite in a near-Earth orbit would occur on average every 2 to 3 years over the next decade (prior to several debris-producing events in 2007, our estimate was a collision every 5 to 6 years)," Wright wrote. "The observed collisions in 1996, 2007, and 2009 seem to roughly agree with this estimate."

The Chinese anti-satellite test was, of course, one of the "debris-producing events" in 2007 that Wright references. In that controversial test, China destroyed one of its own defunct weather satellites, adding about 3,000 pieces of space junk to the ever-growing debris cloud around Earth.

NASA estimates that this cloud contains 500,000 objects bigger than a marble and 22,000 larger than a softball. The number of flecks at least 1 millimeter in diameter probably runs into the hundreds of millions.

Even tiny pieces can seriously damage satellites, since the debris in LEO is zipping around our planet at fantastic speeds — about 17,500 mph (28,160 km/h). And space junk can put astronauts at risk as well. Despite its armor, the International Space Station is susceptible to strikes by objects at least 0.8 inches (2 centimeters) across, NASA officials have said.

The space junk problem is manageable right now, since satellite operators can generally safeguard their craft by taking minor precautions, said Don Kessler, the former head of NASA's Orbital Debris Office. Kessler has spent decades studying the issue, earning him the unofficial title of "Father of Space Junk."

But status-quo troubleshooting won't always be good enough to combat the threat, he said.

"The danger from debris is increasing and, without significant changes in the way we operate in space, those minor precautions will no longer be adequate, replaced by a need for major precautions," Kessler told SPACE.com via email.

"The most significant problem we currently face is coming up with a satisfactory long-term plan on how to manage future space operations," he added. "It will likely include the removal of objects already in orbit, as well as changing either the types of orbits in which we currently operate, or how we manage objects at the end of their operational life."

The 16.5-pound (7.5 kilograms) BLITS satellite launched in September 2009 as a secondary payload aboard a Russian rocket. The International Laser Ranging Service, which is headquartered at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., had been tracking BLITS as part of an experimental campaign on precision satellite laser ranging.

  • National NewsMore>>

  • Home Depot investigating potential credit and debit card breach

    Home Depot investigating potential credit and debit card breach

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 5:10 PM EDT2014-09-02 21:10:56 GMT
    Home improvement retailer Home Depot says it may be the latest victim of a massive credit card security breach. The Atlanta-based company confirmed Tuesday that it is looking into "unusual activity" and it's working with both banks and law enforcement.More >>
    Home improvement retailer Home Depot says it may be the latest victim of a massive credit card security breach. The Atlanta-based company confirmed Tuesday that it is looking into "unusual activity" and it's working with both banks and law enforcement.More >>
  • US military deaths in Afghanistan at 2,202

    US military deaths in Afghanistan at 2,202

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 4:24 PM EDT2014-09-02 20:24:36 GMT
    KHQ.COM - As of Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, at least 2,202 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count.More >>
    KHQ.COM - As of Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, at least 2,202 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. The AP count is three less than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Tuesday at 10 a.m. EDT.More >>
  • Video released by ISIS shows beheading of US journalist

    Video released by ISIS shows beheading of US journalist

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 2:14 PM EDT2014-09-02 18:14:48 GMT
    BEIRUT (AP) - An Internet video purports to show the beheading of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State group. More >>
    BEIRUT (AP) - An Internet video purports to show the beheading of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State group. Sotloff, who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, had last been seen in Syrian in August 2013 until he appeared in a video released online last month by the Islamic State group that showed the beheading of fellow American journalist James Foley.More >>
  • Top Stories from KHQTop StoriesMore>>

  • Security breach had no impact on local Goodwill stores

    Security breach had no impact on local Goodwill stores

    Wednesday, September 3 2014 1:31 AM EDT2014-09-03 05:31:33 GMT
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Goodwill stores in Eastern Washington and North Idaho were not impacted by a data security beach last month, according to a company spokeswoman. In July, Goodwill Industries International announced some store locations may have been affected by a data security issue involving the company's party vendor for payment processing.More >>
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Goodwill stores in Eastern Washington and North Idaho were not impacted by a data security beach last month, according to a company spokeswoman. In July, Goodwill Industries International announced some store locations may have been affected by a data security issue involving the company's party vendor for payment processing.More >>
  • New Coeur d'Alene Police Chief Sworn In

    New Coeur d'Alene Police Chief Sworn In

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 11:18 PM EDT2014-09-03 03:18:05 GMT
    The Coeur d'Alene Police Department swore in Lee White as the new chief of police Tuesday. White says his first priority is to go on what he calls a "listening tour." The goal is to hear from both police and the community to bridge the gap between officers and the public. "There needs to be a tangible sense of how we expect our department members to act," Chief White said. White's swearing in comes at a time when the gap between police and the public is wide. The department has been under ...More >>
    The Coeur d'Alene Police Department swore in Lee White as the new chief of police Tuesday. White says his first priority is to go on what he calls a "listening tour." The goal is to hear from both police and the community to bridge the gap between officers and the public. "There needs to be a tangible sense of how we expect our department members to act," Chief White said. White's swearing in comes at a time when the gap between police and the public is wide. The department has been under ...More >>
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and KHQ. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.