This artwork shows what the Iridium satellite may have looked like shortly before the collision with the Kosmos spacecraft.
Click on image for full size
Original artwork by Windows to the Universe staff (Randy Russell) using images courtesy of Iridium Satellite LLC and NASA.
Satellites Collide in Earth Orbit!
News story originally written on February 13, 2009
On February 10, 2009, two satellites in Earth orbit collided and were destroyed. This was the first major collision between satellites in Earth orbit ever.
The satellites were about 776 km (482 miles) above Siberia when they hit each other. Scientists estimate they were moving at a speed of about 11.6 km per second (26,000 mph) relative to each other when they hit. The collision scattered a huge cloud of debris or "space junk". The debris, moving at very high speeds, is extremely dangerous to other spacecraft and astronauts. Several satellite operators are concerned for the safety of their vehicles. There is some chance the debris might reach the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA thinks the International Space Station is relatively safe because it orbits at a lower altitude (~354 km or 220 miles).
The two spacecraft involved in the collision were an Iridium communications satellite and a Russian Kosmos military satellite. The 950-kilogram (2,094 lb) Kosmos satellite, launched in 1993, had been out of use and essentially "dead" since 1995. The 560-kg (1,235 lb) Iridium satellite, launched in 1997, was operational up until the time of the crash. Iridium's "constellation" of 66 communications satellites includes spares or backups on-orbit; the company is moving one of those to cover the gap created by the destruction of their spacecraft.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
on science education, ranging from evolution
, classroom research
, and the need for science and math literacy
You might also be interested in:
When one object is in orbit around another object, the orbit is usually an elliptical orbit. For example, all of the planets in our Solar System move around the Sun in elliptical orbits. An ellipse is...more
There are several thousand trackable objects in near-Earth space. These objects are baseball size or larger and can be tracked by ground-based radars. Of these thousands of items, only a few hundred are...more
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was one of the most important exploration tools of the past two decades, and will continue to serve as a great resource well into the new millennium. The HST is credited...more
The International Space Station (ISS) is a very large space station in orbit around Earth. The ISS is currently inhabited and in use, but it is also under construction; new modules are gradually being...more
On February 10, 2009, two satellites in Earth orbit collided and were destroyed. This was the first major collision between satellites in Earth orbit ever. The satellites were about 776 km (482 miles)...more
Scientists have recently discovered that thousands of Adelie Penguins thrive in patches of the chilly Southern Ocean near Antarctica's coastline. In these special areas of the ocean, called polynyas,...more
A new study has found that a mixing of two different types of magma is the key to the historic eruptions of Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, and that eruptions often happen in a relatively short...more