Thursday, February 12, 2009

Iridium-Cosmos collision and what it could mean for all of us

A US commercial satellite owned by Iridium has collided in orbit with an ex-Soviet Cosmos satellite (or part of it anyway) and resulted in a large and growing debris field in orbit. Once we get over the "wow cool!" thought of 2 satellites hitting each other at ultra high speed in space we need to look seriously at how we manage the orbital space.

Quite simply if there happened a large number of such events in space (say a war between the US and China where both sides attacked the other's space assets) then space could be rendered unusable for a long time. New satellites would be destroyed as they were launched and were hit by debris and existing assets would be in danger. As these assets were knocked out or simply wore out then replacing them would be difficult if not impossible. We would slowly but surely have to revert back to pre-space age communications and also lose the other benefits of satellites such as meteorology. Suffice to say humans in space would become impossible.

Well that is a long way off yet of course, an apocalyptic view but certainly possible, but the Iridium-Cosmos event should start people thinking about how we try and avoid these sorts of collisions happening and manage the orbital space. Something that is becoming increasingly important as more and more countries put more and more stuff up there. Although space is big things can still hit each other as we have seen.

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