Almost missed yesterday Low Earth Orbit: please refer collision could have created thousands of pieces dangerous debris spatial. The satellite tracking and collision detection company Leo Labs discovered a near miss between two inoperable Russian space objects, part of a rocket and a spy satellite, grazing with an incredibly tight margin.
According to a statement from LeoLabs, the two objects just missed each other, 6 meters, with a margin of error of “only a few tens of meters”.Credit LeoLabs
While the two objects thankfully did not collide, LeoLabs said a “worst-case scenario” could have occurred that could have spawned thousands more space debris in a ripple effect. As Low Earth Orbit (LEO) becomes more crowded, these events will become more frequent spreadhighlighting the real threat to the environment in which the International Space Station (ISS) and thousands of key satellites operate.
Near-collision between Russian space junk
According to LeoLabs, the two objects were an SL-8 missile and Cosmos 2361, a defunct Russian spy satellite designed to intercept electronic signals such as radio communications or radar transmissions. Cosmos-2361 was launched in 1998, according to NASA, while SL-8 is a US Department of Defense nomenclature for the Soviet Kosmos-3 family of rockets, which first entered service in 1964 and flew until 2009.
The near miss happened in what LeoLabs calls a “bad neighborhood” in LEO that stretches 950 to 1050 km. “This region has significant debris generation potential in LEO due to a mix of fracture events and abandoned objects,” explained LeoLab. “Notably, this region is home to approximately 160 SL-8 missile bodies along with their 160 payloads deployed over 20 years ago.” LeoLabs added that there were 1,400 similar near misses in this region of LEO between June and September 2022 alone.
The space debris problem in LEO
Incidents like these make the need for new strategies to mitigate or remove orbital debris from LEO more urgent. Nearly 30,000 pieces of orbital debris are currently being monitored by the US Department of Defense, but many more are too small to detect, according to NASA.
The threat of orbital debris is well known by now. The ISS, orbiting lower than this recent near miss at about 408 km, has had numerous feats to accomplish maneuver in recent months to avoid space junk. A tiny object, possibly an orbital fragment, is thought to be responsible for a leak aboard a spacecraft Soyuz currently docked to the ISS.
As more debris accumulates in Earth orbit, collisions can create even more debris in a terrifying theoretical ripple effect known as Kessler syndrome. The theory states that cascading impacts of space debris could one day thwart humanity’s space ambitions and render space around Earth impassable.