- A Chinese rocket stage and a Soviet-era satellite collided on Earth overnight.
- This collision would have created massive amounts of new space debris and made our current space junk problem even worse.
- As we continue to launch more and more satellites, the likelihood of the spacecraft being affected increases.
In case you had not already heard: Space junk is becoming a real problem. There is so much man-made waste floating in the Earth’s orbit that it is actually posing a threat to future space missions and even ongoing programs such as the International Space Station. It’s bad, and with companies like SpaceX planning to launch thousands more satellites on a regular basis, it’s only going to get worse.
On Thursday night, the seriousness of our space junk problem became apparent when it was noticed that an old rocket stage from a Chinese mission was already hitting a dead Soviet satellite. Scientists monitoring both objects scaled the numbers and determined that there was more than a 10% probability that the objects would collide, which is significantly higher and certainly noticeable. Thankfully, two large pieces of space debris missed each other, but that does not mean that we can go back to ignoring our space junk.
I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, so an old, dead Soviet satellite almost hit a piece of a Chinese rocket. So what?”
While it is true that neither pieces of debris were functional nor important to the ongoing campaigns, a collision could still be catastrophic. You see, when man-made objects in space run into each other at high speeds, they create even more debris as a result. This means that two large objects become dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of smaller, but still dangerous objects that continue to revolve around the Earth.
We are monitoring a very high risk correlation between two large function objects in LEO. Multiple data points have miss distances <25m and Pc between 1% and 20%. The combined mass of both objects is ~ 2,800kg.
Item 1: 19826
Object 2: 36123
TCA: October 16 00: 56UTC
Event height: 991 km pic.twitter.com/6yWDx7bziw
– Liolabs, Inc. (@LeoLabs_Space) October 13, 2020
Even these small objects can cause serious problems for space missions, as small as a bolt moving at high speeds, if it affects a significant portion of cosmic machinery, incredible damage can occur. If, heavenly prohibition, a crew moves in a spacecraft or collides with a small, fast-moving piece of metal as it makes its way to the space station or the moon, the consequences can be catastrophic.
On top of that, the smaller an object is, the harder it is to track from Earth. Two large objects are a problem, certainly, but a thousand small objects moving at different speeds and in new directions can cause disaster.
Of course, the good news is that satellite and rocket stages did not collide with each other. However, the risk of such an event is not going away anytime soon. Many countries have proposed ways to clean the Earth’s orbit and remove large pieces of space junk, but little progress has been made so far.