Two large pieces of space junk – an old rocket body and a military satellite – nearly collided on Friday.
LeoLabs, a private company that works to track satellites and objects in low Earth orbit, tweeted that if the objects had collided, the collision would have resulted in the formation of thousands of fragments that would have “persisted for decades”.
“Too close for comfort… Two large objects missing in #LEO just missed each other this morning – an SL-8 rocket body (16511) and Cosmos 2361 (25590) passed each other at an altitude of 984 km, “said the company.
The company said its radar tracking data helped calculate a miss distance of just 20 feet (6 meters), with a slight margin of error.
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The conjunction happened in what LeoLabs called a “bad neighborhood.”
“This region has significant potential for debris generation in #LEO due to a mix of rupture events and abandoned derelict objects,” he tweeted, noting that the region is home to approximately 160 rocket bodies. SL-8s deployed over two decades ago.
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Between June and September last year, the company pointed out that there were 1,400 high PC conjunctions involving the rocket bodies alone.
“Why is this a big problem? We have identified this type of collision – between two massive abandoned objects – as a ‘worst-case scenario’ because it is largely beyond our control and would likely result in a ripple effect of dangerous collisions, “explained LeoLabs.
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The company said focusing on both collision avoidance and debris mitigation and remediation was crucial to combating space debris.
The International Space Station had to maneuver to avoid such debris, and a small object that is possibly a piece of orbital debris is thought to be responsible for a leak aboard a Soyuz spacecraft currently docked at the station.