Chinese satellite in near collision with debris from Russian explosion, space agency says

21-Jan-2022 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

One of China’s scientific satellites has narrowly avoided colliding with a piece of orbital debris generated by Russia blowing up one of its old satellites, the Chinese space agency said.

The “extremely dangerous encounter” took place on Tuesday when the Tsinghua Science Satellite missed a piece of debris by 14.5 metres, the China National Space Administration’s (CNSA’s) debris centre said on Wednesday night.

The debris was believed to have been generated by the anti-satellite missile test carried out by Russia in November, and the risk of a collision would remain high for the near future, the centre said.

Moscow fired what was believed to be an S-500 Prometey missile on November 15, blowing up a long-defunct Soviet intelligence satellite that had been launched in 1982 and leaving an estimated 1,500 pieces of debris in orbit.

The test drew criticism from the United States, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling it “recklessly conducted”.

US space agency Nasa had said that the safety of International Space Station (ISS) crews would be endangered by the debris, and it postponed a spacewalk in late November after receiving a debris notification at the ISS.

On Tuesday, Nasa ISS programme director Robyn Gatens told a Nasa advisory committee that the risk of debris penetrating the ISS had doubled, from one in 50,000 orbits before Russia’s test to one in 25,000-33,000 orbits, according to news portal The ISS carries out about 6,000 orbits a year.

Liu Jing, a space debris expert and deputy director of the CNSA debris centre, told Chinese tabloid Global Times that encounters between spacecraft and debris usually occurred at a distance of a few kilometres, with a miss by a few metres being “very rare”.

China has been monitoring the debris since the Russian missile was fired in November. Most of it has been spreading at an altitude from Earth of 400 to 1,100km (250 to 680 miles), where several hundred Chinese satellites are in orbit.

“If there is any debris approaching, our satellites need to be notified quickly and do some manoeuvres in advance to avoid it, which is the most practical approach at the moment,” Liu was quoted as saying.

CNSA researchers were alerted on Wednesday as the debris moved closer, Liu said.

“The two got a little closer with each orbit,” Liu said. “By the night of January 18, the two were at their closest. It was very risky and the probability of the two colliding was very high.”


Category: China

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