Nasa satellite’s ‘shocking’ space junk near-miss was even closer than thought – Times of India
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NEW DELHI: Nasa’s TIMED spacecraft and the defunct Russian spy satellite Cosmos 2221 experienced an alarmingly close encounter in orbit, space.com reported. Initial estimates suggested that the two satellites passed within 65 feet (20 meters) of each other. However, further analysis revealed that the actual distance was even closer, with the satellites coming within a mere 33 feet (10 meters) of one another, according to Nasa deputy administrator Pam Melroy.
Melroy expressed her personal shock and the concern shared by Nasa officials, stating, “Had the two satellites collided, we would have seen significant debris generation — tiny shards traveling tens of thousands of miles an hour, waiting to puncture a hole in another spacecraft, potentially putting human lives at risk.”
The issue of space debris is not just a hypothetical concern. In August 2021, the Chinese military satellite Yunhai 1-02 was struck by a piece of space junk, likely a fragment from a Russian Zenit-2 rocket launched in 1996. While such collisions remain infrequent, near misses like the one involving TIMED are becoming increasingly common as Earth’s orbit becomes more congested.
Currently, there are approximately 11,500 satellites orbiting Earth, with 9,000 of them being operational, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). More than half of these functional satellites belong to SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network, which now consists of nearly 5,800 satellites. In addition to active satellites, there are an estimated 36,500 pieces of space junk larger than 4 inches (10 centimeters) and more than 130 million fragments larger than 1 millimeter in Earth’s orbit.
Nasa has been working to mitigate the space debris problem over the years, with efforts such as implementing “common-sense practices” like passivating rocket upper stages in orbit to reduce their explosive potential. However, the agency recognizes the need for further action and has developed an integrated “space sustainability strategy,” the first part of which was released on the same day as Melroy’s presentation.
(With inputs from agencies)





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