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>>

  • VA: No proof delays in veteran care caused hospital deaths

    VA: No proof delays in veteran care caused hospital deaths

    Tuesday, August 26 2014 9:11 PM EDT2014-08-27 01:11:37 GMT
    KHQ.COM- The Department of Veterans Affairs says there's no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at the VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz.Revelations that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care rocked the agency this past spring, bringing to light scheduling problems and allegations of misconduct at other hospitals as well.NBC News obtained a draft report from the VA's Office of Inspector General Tuesday. The draft report says while investigators found substantial delays in care an...More >>
    KHQ.COM- The Department of Veterans Affairs says there's no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at the VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz.Revelations that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care rocked the agency this past spring, bringing to light scheduling problems and allegations of misconduct at other hospitals as well.NBC News obtained a draft report from the VA's Office of Inspector General Tuesday. The draft report says while investigators found substantial delays in care an...More >>
  • UPDATE: Sergeant who shot herself at Fort Lee dies

    UPDATE: Sergeant who shot herself at Fort Lee dies

    Monday, August 25 2014 6:58 PM EDT2014-08-25 22:58:27 GMT
    Police officer patrols the entrance of Fort Lee in VirginiaPolice officer patrols the entrance of Fort Lee in Virginia
    FORT LEE, Va. (AP) - A commanding general at a Virginia Army base says an enraged soldier with a gun barricaded herself in an office, then shot herself in the head as officials tried to negotiate with her.More >>
    FORT LEE, Va. (AP) - A commanding general at a Virginia Army base says an enraged soldier with a gun barricaded herself in an office, then shot herself in the head as officials tried to negotiate with her. Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lyons says the soldier went on a rampage, throwing objects. More >>
  • Ice bucket challenge goes awry, firefighters hurt

    Ice bucket challenge goes awry, firefighters hurt

    Friday, August 22 2014 4:50 PM EDT2014-08-22 20:50:01 GMT
    CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. - A charity stunt that has grown into a social media phenomenon went terribly wrong for four Kentucky firefighters who were injured when a fire truck's ladder got too close to a power line after they dumped water on college students who were taking part in an "ice bucket challenge."More >>
    CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. - A charity stunt that has grown into a social media phenomenon went terribly wrong for four Kentucky firefighters who were injured when a fire truck's ladder got too close to a power line after they dumped water on college students who were taking part in an "ice bucket challenge."More >>
  • Top Stories from KHQTop StoriesMore>>

  • AFTER THE FIRE: KHQ returns to Okanogan County

    AFTER THE FIRE: KHQ returns to Okanogan County

    Wednesday, August 27 2014 6:31 PM EDT2014-08-27 22:31:24 GMT
    PATEROS, Wash. - It's been more than a month since the Carlton Complex fire raged out of control and burned through the towns of Pateros and Brewster and the residents in the area are picking up the pieces, and preparing for the long haul. More >>
    PATEROS, Wash. - It's been more than a month since the Carlton Complex fire raged out of control and burned through the towns of Pateros and Brewster and the residents in the area are picking up the pieces, and preparing for the long haul. The fire started on July 14th from a lightning strike. Four separate fires merged into one, and burned through Okanogan County at a rapid rate. More >>
  • Want a skateboard signed by Pearl Jam while they were in Spokane? CHECK THIS OUT!

    Want a skateboard signed by Pearl Jam while they were in Spokane? CHECK THIS OUT!

    Wednesday, August 27 2014 5:03 PM EDT2014-08-27 21:03:16 GMT
    SPOKANE, Wash. - If you love skateboarding and Pearl Jam, then you're going to love this.Up for auction on eBay right now is a skateboard signed by Pearl Jam while they were in Spokane for their November 30th, 2013 concert during the Lightning Bolt tour. More >>
    SPOKANE, Wash. - If you love skateboarding and Pearl Jam, then you're going to love this.Up for auction on eBay right now is a skateboard signed by Pearl Jam while they were in Spokane for their November 30th, 2013 concert during the Lightning Bolt tour. The best part is, the money raised from the auction will go to the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners, a non-profit group that is developing a 25 mile long trail in Ferry County.More >>
  • Fire at car dealership suspicious; Witnesses say it's related to stabbing

    Fire at car dealership suspicious; Witnesses say it's related to stabbing

    Wednesday, August 27 2014 4:29 PM EDT2014-08-27 20:29:01 GMT
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Early Wednesday morning a fire broke out at A&M Auto Sales on the corner of Sprague and Smith in Spokane. More >>
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Early Wednesday morning a fire broke out at A&M Auto Sales on the corner of Sprague and Smith in Spokane. A witness tells KHQ that around 3 AM she saw two men in the alley behind the business, then saw a bottle fly "then explode." The fire is being called suspicious by investigators but has not been ruled arsoMore >>
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.