Crash of US, Russian Satellites a Threat in Space
Space collision between Russian, US satellites threatens other satellites
By DOUGLAS BIRCH and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV Associated Press Writers
MOSCOW February 12, 2009 (AP)
The collision between U.S. and Russian communication satellites this week — the first such crash — has created
speeding clouds of debris that threaten other unmanned spacecraft in nearby orbits, Russian officials and experts said
The smashup 500 miles (800 kilometers) over Siberia on Tuesday involved a derelict Russian spacecraft designed for
military communications and a working U.S. Iridium satellite, which serves commercial customers as well as the U.S.
Department of Defense.
In a statement Thursday, Iridium, based in Bethesda, Maryland, denied that it was responsible for the crash. The
collision scattered space debris in orbits 300 to 800 miles (500 to 1,300 kilometers) above Earth, according to Maj.-
Gen. Alexander Yakushin, chief of staff for the Russian military's Space Forces.
But Igor Lisov, a prominent Russian space expert, said Thursday he did not understand why NASA's debris experts and
Iridium had failed to prevent the collision, since the Iridium satellite was active and its orbit could be adjusted.
"It could have been a computer failure or a human error," he said. "It also could be that they only were paying attention
to smaller debris and ignoring the defunct satellites."
Lisov said the debris may threaten a large number of earth-tracking and weather satellites in similar orbits.
"There is a quite a lot of satellites in nearby orbits," he told The Associated Press. "The other 65 Iridium satellites in
similar orbits will face the most serious risk, and there numerous earth-tracking and weather satellites in nearby orbits.
Fragments may trigger a chain of collisions."
Both the U.S. Space Surveillance Network and Russian Space Forces are tracking the debris, believed to be traveling at
speeds of around 200 meters — or about 660 feet — per second.
NASA said it would take weeks to know the full magnitude of the crash, but both NASA and Russia's Roscosmos
agencies said there was little risk to the international space station and its three crew members.
"There is no immediate danger, but we will carefully monitor the situation," Russian Mission Control spokesman
Valery Lyndin told the AP. He noted the station's orbit has been adjusted in the past to dodge space debris.
The space junk also poses no threat to the space shuttle set to launch Feb. 22 with seven astronauts, U.S. officials said,
though that issue will be reviewed.
The Iridium orbiter weighed 1,235 pounds (560 kilograms), he said, and the decommissioned Kosmos-2251 military
communications craft weighed nearly a ton. The Kosmos was launched in 1993 and went out of service two years later
in 1995, Yakushin said.