After six decades of space exploration, the Earth is surrounded by a giant cloud of satellites and fragments of ancient satellites. But the more instruments we put into orbit, the greater the risk of two colliding, and it turns out that understanding what happens during a collision is a challenge.
Scientists from the European Space Agency are trying to change that by modeling more frightening collisions between larger satellites, which have been very rare until now. People are more concerned about smaller pieces of space debris crashing into each other, which still does serious damage.
With 1,000 pounds each, the collisions become even more messy. "We want to understand what happens when two satellites collide," Tiziana Cardone, an engineer at the agency that leads the project, said in a press release. "This is really unknown territory."
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Engineers are usually more concerned about how rockets and satellites fare during the launch, which is violent enough to destroy poorly constructed equipment. In comparison, the orbit is smoother sailing.
Satellites have collided only four times in the last 30 years. The scientists collected the data they could about these impacts, but each event was very different; It is difficult to form generalizations about the cause.