Concerned astronomers are tracking two satellites that could collide on Thursday, releasing a large amount of space junk in the aftermath. The junk could affect other satellites that remain usable, generating billions in damage.
The possible event was spotted by a Leo Labs, a company that keeps track of floating debris and offers support for companies and agencies who operate satellites in low Earth orbit by helping them to avoid collisions. One of the previous spacecraft is a decommissioned space telescope, while the other is an experimental US payload.
IRAS or Infrared Astronomical Satellite was launched as a part of a joint project in 1983. The goal of the mission was to create an infrared light map of the stars visible above the atmosphere. It was the first telescope that performed a survey of the whole night sky in infrared lights. While the mission was successful, the telescope was retired after ten months and became a space hazard.
Two Dead Satellites Could Crash Into Each Other
GGSE-4 was launched in 1967, and it is a scientific payload. It was mounted on the POPPY 5B military surveillance satellite and remained operational until 1972 when it was deactivated. However, both the payload and the satellite remained in orbit, sharing the same fate as IRAS.
At first, astronomers anticipated that the two satellites would pass by a distance of 15-30 meters between them as they travel across Pennsylvania, US. However, further revisions showed that the distance had been reduced to 12 meters, and the odds have increased from 1 in 1000 to one in 100, and it may even be 1 in 20.
The issue is complicated by the fact that POPPY 5B sports a boom arm with a length of 18 meters, and there is no way to tell the direction of the arm. The other satellite could likely be caught by the boomer’s arm, leading to a clash.