2 satellites will narrowly avoid colliding over Pennsylvania on Wednesday

  • 2 satellites will narrowly avoid colliding over Pennsylvania on Wednesday

2 satellites will narrowly avoid colliding over Pennsylvania on Wednesday

On Wednesday, two satellites in space will pass close to each other directly over Pittsburgh, according to a company that tracks space debris.

Two retired satellites are going to have a close encounter Wednesday, scientists say.

IRAS (1377) is a decommissioned space telescope that was launched in 1983. There is very little chance of the satellites crashing to Earth, as they are too far up to be dragged down by friction with Earth's atmosphere. It is 11.8 feet by 10.6 feet by 6.7 feet large and had a launch mass of 2,388 pounds.

Its potential doomsday date is the GGSE-4, a defunct science payload from 1967, which weighs just 10 pounds (4.5 kg) but is attached to the 187-pound (85 kg) recently declassified military satellite Poppy 5. She calls the potential collision "one of the most unsafe possible collisions that we've seen for some time".

It should be noted that, in the past, space agencies have conducted evasive manoeuvres even when satellites were over 60 kilometres apart. If this does undoubtedly come to skip, Gorman said there is doubtlessly a large amount of debris that will be created.

If a collision happened, there would be "thousands of pieces of new debris that would stay in orbit for decades".

In a series of tweets, the California-based monitoring service, which monitors the skies using a series of ground-based radars, explained that the two dead space objects will pass one another as little as 15-30 meters apart over Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania "at a relative velocity of 14.7 km/s", (i.e. almost 53,000 km per hour). Traveling at a speed of roughly 32,880 miles per hour, it is possible they could hit each other. Any debris de-orbiting will harmlessly deplete on atmospheric re-entry and won't even make it to the ground. And, at that speed, it's going to probably cause the smaller satellite to break up completely into smaller fragments. And each of those fragments becomes a piece of space debris in its own right.

LeoLabs posted a comment on twitter where they said, "Situations like this highlight the need for reliable, timely deorbiting of satellites for space sustainability moving forward. We will continue to monitor this event through the coming days and provide updates as available", the company said in a tweet.

Aside from adding to the growing problem of orbital debris, the new pieces could endanger the active satellites and spacecraft that operate in low-Earth orbit. In 2009 a decommissioned Russian satellite, Cosmos-2251, and an active USA satellite, Iridium 33, collided.