Russian And US Satellites Collide

8:44am UK, Thursday February 12, 2009

Two satellites have collided in space for the first time, sending out a massive cloud of debris, according to the US military.

An illustration of a satellite owned by Iridium, whose craft was involved in the collision

The crash, which took place in low-earth orbit, involved a privately-owned US communications satellite and a defunct Russian satellite.
"We believe it is the first time that two satellites have collided in orbit," said Air Force Colonel Les Kodlick of the US Strategic Command.
He added that the debris created by the crash was creating potential problems for space operations.

The US satellite was a craft owned by Iridium Satellite LLC, which said customers using satellite phones may experience brief outages until a fix had been put in place by Friday.
"This event is not the result of a failure on the part of Iridium or its technology," said a company spokeswoman.

Iridium said it planned to move one of its in-orbit spare satellites into the constellation to replace the lost craft within 30 days.
Meanwhile, NASA said it would take weeks to determine the full magnitude of the crash, which occurred over Siberia on Tuesday.

Some 500 to 600 new bits of debris, some as small as 10cm across, are already being tracked by the command's Joint Space Operations Centre in addition to the 18,000 or so other man-made objects it has catalogued in space.

The collision occurred at roughly 485 miles (780km), an altitude used by satellites that monitor weather and carry telephone communications among other things.
The International Space Station flies at a lower altitude and is the command's top priority in attempting to prevent collisions.