Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Deathday Sid

Since Sid was such an avid junkie, I'm sure he'd appreciate this :

Space so full of junk that a satellite collision could destroy communications on Earth

The volume of abandoned rockets, shattered satellites and missile shrapnel in the Earth’s orbit is reaching a “tipping point” and is now threatening the $250 billion (£174bn) space services industry, scientists said.

A single collision between two satellites or large pieces of “space junk” could send thousands of pieces of debris spinning into orbit, each capable of destroying further satellites.

Global positioning systems, international phone connections, television signals and weather forecasts are among the services which are at risk of crashing to a halt.

This “chain reaction” could leave some orbits so cluttered with debris that they become unusable for commercial or military satellites, the US Defense Department's interim Space Posture Review warned last year.

There are also fears that large pieces of debris could threaten the lives of astronauts in space shuttles or at the International Space Station.

The report, which was sent to Congress in March and not publicly released, said space is "increasingly congested and contested" and warned the situation is set to worsen.

Bharath Gopalaswamy, an Indian rocket scientist researching space debris at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, estimates that there are now more than 370,000 pieces of junk compared with 1,100 satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO), between 490 and 620 miles above the planet.

The February 2009 crash between a defunct Russian Cosmos satellite and an Iridium Communications Inc. satellite left around 1,500 pieces of junk whizzing around the earth at 4.8 miles a second.

A Chinese missile test destroyed a satellite in January 2007, leaving 150,000 pieces of debris in the atmosphere, according to Dr Gopalaswamy.

The space junk, dubbed “an orbiting rubbish dump”, also comprises nuts, bolts, gloves and other debris from space missions.

"This is almost the tipping point," Dr Gopalaswamy said. "No satellite can be reliably shielded against this kind of destructive force."

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