There are more than a thousand artificial satellites in orbit of our planet today, most of which have long been out of order and are considered space debris. They can no longer be controlled from earth stations, so they always run the risk of colliding with each other. So, in early 2019, the US Air Force announced the risk of a collision between two large spacecraft, but this was avoided. However, this time the LeoLabs space debris tracking service spoke about a possible collision. Its representatives believe that the accident could occur as early as January 29 and it could have very undesirable consequences. Could one of the satellites fall to Earth?
According to the scientific publication Science Alert, a collision of the IRAS space telescope launched in 1983 and the GGSE-4 satellite launched in 1967 may soon occur in the orbit of our planet. According to the calculations of specialists from LeoLabs, at the end of January the vehicles located at an altitude of 900 kilometers will fly past each other at a distance of about 15-30 meters. Since they have been turned off and not used for a long time, no one can change their trajectory.
The blue lines show the flight paths of the IRAS and GGSE-4 vehicles.
Consequences of a collision of satellites
Researchers know that the IRAS space telescope has a rather large body and weighed 1083 kilograms at the time of launch. The GGSE-4 satellite, in turn, is a tiny device weighing no more than 4.5 kilograms. They move at a speed of about 14.7 kilometers per second, so when they collide, many fragments can form. It is noteworthy that most of them will belong to the small satellite GGSE-4 and practically nothing will remain of it, but the IRAS telescope is unlikely to receive severe damage.
It is definitely not worth worrying that the components of the devices will fall on our heads. The fact is that the particles of the satellite, when they enter the atmosphere of our planet, will instantly burn out and the probability that they will survive is negligible. But then why is LeoLabs so worried about a possible collision if people are not in any danger?
Why is space debris dangerous?
And the thing is that the remnants of the satellite that have not been burned up in the atmosphere will remain in the orbit of our planet. They will become part of the already huge cloud of space debris, which poses a danger to all currently operating devices. After all, we cannot control them, and at any moment they can hit the communication satellites we need and even telescopes that constantly collect data on distant planets.
Something like this looks like the Earth surrounded by space debris
Moreover, since the orbit of our planet is full of both working and failed devices, scientists are not always able to freely examine space objects. Already now, space exploration can be compared to looking at the world through foggy glasses that prevent you from enjoying all the beauties of existence.
According to space archaeologist Alisa Gorman, if in the decade that has begun, mankind does not come up with an effective method of collecting space debris, big problems will arise with the launch of new vehicles and space exploration. Fortunately, workable devices for cleaning near-Earth space already exist. For example, in 2019, the British probe RemoveDEBRIS captured space debris flying around our planet for the first time, and did so in real conditions.