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Historic clash of Satellites

An unfortunate historical landmark accident occurred at 16:55 GMT on Tuesday 10th of February in the largest human created space highway known as the “Lower Earth Orbit”. The event took place at approximately 800km directly above the earthly region of Siberia.

In essence it was a defunct Russian Cosmos telecoms bird satellite (originally launched in 1993) that collided in orbit with an American communications Satellite dated from 1997 that formed part of the Iridium satcomms fleet.

Interestingly, the Iridium network was originally developed to be the world's first global mobile phone system. GSM roaming had other ideas however and beat Iridium to the chase. Subsequently the Iridium network became bankrupt, although it was later reborn with US government backing. This latest incident further demonstrates the jinx status of Iridium. Bad luck for me too, as I had a $10,000 USD Iridium Satellite phone stolen from my Hotel room on Margarita Island, Venezuela back in 2002.

In balance Iridium does actually possess advantages over other satellite communication systems, because it requires merely a small antenna, rather than a dish or other large directional apparatus. It is considered crucial to many specialist applications still today, a number of which involve the military and intelligence communities. This presents us with an indication as to why the US Government was so keen to revive the system.

Moving back to the actual collision, from all accounts both spacecraft were totally wrecked and in earthly insurance terms, each satellite could be better described as a write off. The incident caused two large clouds of extremely hazardous high-speed debris, although the International Space Station (ISS) is thought to have commented that it will not present a danger.

The Iridium Satellite Corporation is reported to have stated that it expected only minor outages in service as a result of the collision. It is understood that the Company expects to present a network solution in place by this Friday, and will move one of its in-orbit spares to permanently replace the destroyed satellite within 30 days.

Meanwhile NASA officials said that the ISS (International Space Station) was not thought to be in imminent danger as it orbits at an altitude of 220 miles, which is well below that of the satellite wreckage clouds. Moreover, in the event any debris may threaten the space station, it has the ability to maneuver with small on board thrusters to avoid being a sitting duck for incoming objects so to speak: what the general public does not know, is that this has already happened on eight separate occasions.

Following, this begs the question “What is the likelihood of more collisions in the future?” So here comes the bad news; most experts state that this collision was an accident waiting to happen or in scientific terms a statistical probability; a fallacy of statistics even. Apparently, literally tens of thousands of space junk is floating around up there in orbit, much of it totally uncontrollable. A fascinating quote to partially back this viewpoint came from the US air force in Colonel Les Kodlick who is reported to say that the American Military is currently tracking an additional 500 to 600 objects of orbital debris, as a result of the collision, this is in addition to the 18,000 other rogue objects already logged and tracked. Relatively recently an EU satellite very nearly missed a Chinese object. The European Space Agency did not even know until the Americans informed them. Now is just the start, what can we expect in 50 years though?

Not much we can do at Hypo Global in terms of giving you practical advice to survive falling debris from space! Except perhaps to avoid living in Siberia or French Guyana, where the NASA missions usually land.

Finally, this event seems to have captured the imagination of the international space conspiracy theorists. The most common space story banded around is that the Russians deliberately rammed the Iridium satellite to prevent a specific satphone call/tracker-bug message/submarine data upload getting through.

There’s even gossip in space!

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