Only a few Meters were Missing from the 52,800 km / h Collision in Space

During the night, a Russian satellite and a Chinese rocket raced towards each other. Experts already feared the meltdown over the Antarctic, but could only stand by and watch. That didn't happen. But two examples show how risky the situation is in space.


Only a few meters were missing from the 52,800 km  h collision in space


Only a few meters were missing from a collision - at a speed of 52,800 kilometers per hour. On Friday night, a disused Russian satellite and a burnt-out Chinese rocket stage raced towards each other at an altitude of 990 kilometers in space. According to radar data, their orbits crossed at a distance of only 25 meters. About the dimensions of space, that was a hair's breadth.

The US surveillance company for space debris, LeoLabs, sounded the alarm in advance. The experts on earth could only stand by and watch what was going on in space. The 40-year-old Russian satellite “Cosmos 2004” and the third stage “CZ-4C” of a Chinese rocket launched in 2009 can no longer be controlled. The Russian military satellite also has a 17-meter boom, which made the collision more likely. According to the data available so far, however, the impact did not occur. LeoLabs gave the all-clear early Friday morning.

The experts feared a mega-collision over the Antarctic. Because there are two large and heavy objects, a cloud of debris with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of small objects could have been created. This is a huge threat to other satellites.

If the cloud of debris slowly descended through gravity, it would have threatened hundreds of satellites in lower orbit (LEO). For example, the US space company SpaceX is currently building a global fleet of internet satellites that orbit the earth at a height of over 500 kilometers.

Two examples show what could have happened

Little data shows the force of the crash in space: the Russian satellite with a diameter of two meters has a mass of 820 kilograms, the burned-out rocket stage of around two tons. So it would have been a huge impact with a high so-called relative speed of the objects racing towards each other. The US space scientist Jonathan McDowell calculated that the collision would have corresponded to an explosion of 14 tons of explosives (TNT).

For years, experts have been warning about space debris and calling on rocket and satellite manufacturers to ensure that their technology burns up safely in space after use. Clouds of debris from collisions can trigger new collisions again: a dangerous domino effect. Experts speak of Kessler syndrome, named after the astronomer Donald Kessler. Already 40 years ago he warned that space travel would become riskier due to the cascading increase in the number of rubble.


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