Scientists are keeping a close eye on orbital debris created when two communications satellites — one American, the other Russian — smashed into each other hundreds of miles above the Earth.
NASA said it will take weeks to determine the full magnitude of the unprecedented crash and whether any other satellites or even the Hubble Space Telescope are threatened.
The collision, which occurred nearly 500 miles over Siberia on Tuesday, was the first high-speed impact between two intact spacecraft, NASA officials said.
“We knew this was going to happen eventually,” said Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
NASA believes any risk to the international space station and its three astronauts is low. It orbits about 270 miles below the collision course.
A spokesman for the Russian civilian space agency Roscosmos, Alexander Vorobyev, said on state-controlled Channel I television that “for the international space station, at this time and in the near future, there’s no threat.”
There also should be no danger to the space shuttle set to launch with seven astronauts on Feb. 22, officials said, but that will be re-evaluated in the coming days. …The Iridium orbiter weighed 1,235 pounds (560 kilograms), he said, and the decommissioned Kosmos-2251 military communications craft weighed nearly a ton. The Kosmos was launched in 1993 and went out of service two years later in 1995, Yakushin said.Some Soviet-built, nuclear-powered satellites long out of action in higher orbits may also be vulnerable to collisions, Lisov said. If one of them collides with the debris, the radioactive fallout would pose no threat to Earth, Lisov said, but its speeding wreckage could multiply the hazard to other satellites.