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Possible Collision Between Cube-satellite and Old Space Junk

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the shades-of-kessler dept.

Space 74

photonic writes "The BBC is reporting on a possible collision between Ecuador's first satellite (a small cubesat) and debris from an upper stage of an old Russian rocket. If confirmed, this might be the third case in recent years, after a high-speed collision of an Iridium satellite with a dead Russian satellite in 2009 and a collision earlier this year between a Russian laser reflector (which can be tracked very accurately) and a tiny piece of a debris from a Chinese weather satellite that was destroyed in a missile test."

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74 comments

Fiction begets reality (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43811721)

I guess it was only a matter of time before Planetes [wikipedia.org] became relevant.

what kinds of spikes do such comments cause? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43813211)

I wonder if someone who watches /. but also monitors torrent/nzb index searchers, ever sees a correlation. Or if people who run indexes just think, "weird, lots of people suddenly searching for 'planetes' today. WTF?" and they never know why? Anyway, downloading the first few episodes right now...

So now there is more random trash up there (1)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | about a year ago | (#43811731)

Goody, so now there is more random trash in orbit just waiting to smoke other satellites.

Simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43811919)

Set off some nuclear bombs, that'll destroy all the debris in atomic fire.

Re:Simple solution (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#43812305)

That is entirely what will not happen. If you manage to "destroy" much of anything, you'll just end up with more smaller, faster moving, less predictable pieces of space junk.

Re:Simple solution (2)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about a year ago | (#43812877)

Really? How will that work, exactly? How does this "atomic fire" propagate through space? Especially the volume of space in which all the debris floats? Nuclear bombs are pretty devastating within an atmosphere, but somehow, I just can't picture much of a pressure wave or much of an "atomic fire" in a vacuum.

Re:Simple solution (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about a year ago | (#43816359)

It's been established by many reputable parties during the 50's - 70's or maybe even as late as the 80's (depending on whether you want to delve into conspiracy or not). That nuking our upper atmosphere is bad (TM).

I do not endorse it.

Van Allen Belts being #1 on the list. Power outages being #2. Those are not science fiction and do not require "Atomic Fire".

Re:So now there is more random trash up there (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about a year ago | (#43812707)

Not really. Same amount of mass up there as there was before. The utility of the satellite was low to begin with. Its whole purpose was to allow their politicians to say Ecuador has a space program. They can continue to do that as long as the satellite is in orbit. Not like they need those pictures or music.

Re:So now there is more random trash up there (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | about a year ago | (#43820753)

If it has been broken into several pieces, or had any material chipped off of it, then the problem has gotten worse following this incident. If all of the orbitting mass was in one convenient lump, it would be easy to avoid.

Re:So now there is more random trash up there (2)

SeaFox (739806) | about a year ago | (#43815693)

There was a Glad trash bag advertisement back in the 80's where astronauts were spacewalking to bag up floating space junk. I remember one part where the voiceover goes "...and even the neighbors' bulky junk" while the astronaut puts a comically-oversize bolt with the hammer & sickle stamped on the end into the Glad bag.

Whenever these stories appear I'm reminded of that commercial. Even moreso when two of the three examples of collisions are caused by Russian debris. I've been unsuccessful in locating it on YouTube despite all the (old, not-famous) ads people have uploaded there.

Kessler Syndrome (5, Informative)

invid (163714) | about a year ago | (#43811733)

I think it has started. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Kessler Syndrome (0)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | about a year ago | (#43811749)

I was thinking the same thing but didn't know the proper name for it.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43811813)

I was thinking the same thing but didn't know the proper name for it.

Thanks for letting us know. Now that we're aware of what Bob the Super Hamste was thinking, the world is a better place. Seriously, why post this?

Re:Kessler Syndrome (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43811853)

Well geeze, we all already knew that Anonymous Coward was a bit of a dick. Seriously, why post this?

Re:Kessler Syndrome (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43811933)

I was thinking the same thing but didn't know the proper name for it.

Thanks for letting us know. Now that we're aware of what Bob the Super Hamste was thinking, the world is a better place.

Seriously, why post this?

And now I'm going to ask the same question to you there, thy arrogant one of pointless posts.

At least I recognize the irony of my response here, and have now stated it. Do yourself a favor and try not to get hung up on policing pointless posts. You will lose. I promise. No matter what site you go to.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (3, Interesting)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#43811879)

Surely it's not Kessler syndrome until you have debris from one collision causing a further collision? In each of the incidents described above, an existing piece of debris not originating in a collision was the cause of the incident.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#43812031)

Surely it's not Kessler syndrome until you have debris from one collision causing a further collision?

Well, if the missile impact (a collision) with the Chinese satellite caused an impact with the Russian reflector, you could argue we've already seen that.

I find it hard to argue that the debris from the Chinese satellite wasn't from a collision -- it was just a planned one (and possibly a very dumb idea in the first place).

Re:Kessler Syndrome (3, Interesting)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#43812079)

Kessler syndrome is a self-sustaining chain reaction, I really don't think that deliberate collisions count towards it.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#43812141)

Not suggesting we're there yet, but we're moving there. Obviously we haven't reached some self-sustaining chain reaction yet.

Deliberate or not, this is having the effect of the debris from collisions causing more collisions. If it gets worse or we don't find a way to deal with it, we might end up there.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#43812631)

It's not even a chain reaction yet, much less a self-sustaining one. When a piece of debris from a spontaneous collision causes another collision, then we'll have the first chain reaction event relevant to Kessler syndrom.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43812669)

I would think that something that could start the reaction would certainly count towards it.

QED

Re:Kessler Syndrome (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#43812951)

A regular old collision between two objects in space is like a plutonium atom absorbing a stray thermal neutron and undergoing fission. You can have as many events as you want from as many atoms as you like, but so long as they're dilute, the events are independent and it's safe. That's what has happened in this instance.

A collision between an object in space and the debris from a previous collision is like a plutonium atom undergoing fission, then its neutron finding another plutonium atom and causing a further fission event. You've got a chain reaction, but right now it's at equilibrium, with each event causing fewer than one secondary event. That has not happened yet. It could happen eventually, but it hasn't.

Kessler syndrome is like nuclear criticality. Once you have a sufficiently high concentration of objects, you have more than one secondary event for every primary event. The chain reaction becomes self-sustaining. Then you're fucked.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about a year ago | (#43815113)

"Then you're fucked."

For a period of time. Each collision changes velocities and some (most, actually) of those changes will act to lower orbits, reducing the amount of mass in orbit. I don't know what the half life is though.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#43839551)

It'd be fun to run that simulation, actually. Maybe I can rustle up some computer time in the near future.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (2)

invid (163714) | about a year ago | (#43812445)

It's not Kessler Syndrome yet, but we are moving toward a situation where it can start.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (4, Funny)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about a year ago | (#43812933)

Surely it's not Kessler syndrome until you have debris from one collision causing a further collision? In each of the incidents described above, an existing piece of debris not originating in a collision was the cause of the incident.

Surely it's not the Kessler syndrome until someone makes the run in less than 12 parsecs... or am I missing something?

Re:Kessler Syndrome (1)

steelfood (895457) | about a year ago | (#43813759)

Thus far. But the number of unintentional collisions have increased significantly these past few years. And the number of maneuvers needed to avoid debris have also increased recently. Even the ISS had a hole punched in one of its solar panels recently by debris.

It'll only be a matter of time.

Kessler "Syndrome" badly named (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43816677)

Kessler "Syndrome" is bad name for it. The term syndrome is a Biology/Medical term that refers to a collection of signs and symptoms that have been observed to occur together; it is most appropriately used to name this clustering when the root causes for the association are not known. A cause may later be found; sometimes the syndrome name may stick, or it may be renamed or obsoleted.

For instance, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: named by physicians who noticed a clustering of rare opportunistic infections with, in individuals without the usual reasons for immune system collapse (leukemias, inherited defects, etc), mostly homosexual men (later clustering patterns would be found and added). The root cause was discovered later -- HIV -- but the Syndrome name continues to be used to refer to the disease HIV causes.

I know Slashdot tech-types don't like when computer jargon is used incorrectly. As a bio geek, I feel that way in this case. Something like Kessler Catastrophe or Kessler Cascade would be more appropriate.

Re:Kessler "Syndrome" badly named (1)

Cajun Hell (725246) | about a year ago | (#43819029)

But the mystique of "syndrome" make is scarier! Do you want to live in a world without fear?

It's probably as "confirmed" as it's going to get. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43811745)

From the article: "The US-based Joint Space Operations Center, which monitors all artificial Earth-orbiting objects, said there had been no direct crash but that their "data indicated a lateral collision with particles" of the Soviet rocket."

This is about all the confirmation you can ever hope for in a situation like this.

Not good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43811747)

This would mean that 33% of space impact incidents are caused by Chinese instead of 50%, diminishing the impact of anti satellite missiles which will encourage other countries to conduct them as well

We need to find a way to tidy up our SPACE JUNK! (1)

Kevoco (64263) | about a year ago | (#43811803)

http://geeksoulbrother.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/SpaceballMaid.jpg

Here goes the Ecuadorian Space program (2)

martiniturbide (1203660) | about a year ago | (#43811845)

The Ecuadorian Satellite was very criticized here in Ecuador it is sad that this happened. While a lot of people on Ecuador make fun of the satellite, I see it a like a positive first step of this country into space.

Re:Here goes the Ecuadorian Space program (2)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year ago | (#43811911)

Yep. Space technology is a resource. In fact, space tech is the ONLY technology that's capable of preventing the extinction of the Human Race. When it comes time to get some of our eggs out of this one basket, you're going to need some space savvy to ensure a few of them are Ecuadorian.

Re:Here goes the Ecuadorian Space program (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43812253)

Not only the extinction of humans. When the Sun expands past this planet all life we are aware of will die.
If we don't have the technology to skip planet by then we could at least make an effort to send more resilient organisms to the Earth-like planets we know of.
Perhaps one of them will evolve into intelligent life if we can give them a couple of million years more.

Re:Here goes the Ecuadorian Space program (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43812299)

Space tech is the ONLY technology that's capable of preventing the extinction of the "Human Race"? Uhm. I heard a phrase once. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. If we're dumb enough for long enough we'll learn to live better on this planet, probably before we cause our own *total* annihilation. You obviously have zero confidence that there's any chance that we will survive for long enough to evolve away from our selfish, destructive behaviors. I hate to say it but, even Global Thermonuclear War wouldn't make us extinct, just *mostly* extinct, and it would force change, whether that change would be positive or not is up to us.

  And please don't make some argument about the Earth being impermanent or Sol entering its red phase and cooking us before we're enveloped into it. And don't give me any The Day After Tomorrow scenarios either... We've got a LOT of time to figure out better ways of being, and even if we make it a lot worse in the meantime, some of us will live, and the more we're squeezed the harder it will be to ignore. Space becomes our only option, only if we FAIL at actually becoming a civilization on this planet. And to be honest, I damn well hope we get it right on this marble before we start polluting everywhere else like the virus that we resemble.

Re:Here goes the Ecuadorian Space program (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#43812425)

Why do people think the answer to such big problems is "learning"? What can we "learn" that will prevent AGW, for example, without actually having to do any further work?

And to be honest, I damn well hope we get it right on this marble before we start polluting everywhere else like the virus that we resemble.

What incentive is there to "get it right"? Earth is an easy place to live. Space is not. Space has the incentives to get things right that you feel we need.

The Russians... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43811849)

...should really pickup after themselves!

Balance convergence (1)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | about a year ago | (#43812273)

Good. As always in our Universe, things tend to converge to a certain equilibrium. There are more and more satellites in the upper sky, thus the probability of a collision increases exponentially. Collision => less satellites.

Re:Balance convergence (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43812401)

Collision leads to more objects, not less, due to fragmentation.

Re:Balance convergence (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#43812703)

A salient lesson that not everything proceeds towards equilibrium, and even then, the equilibria reached are not necessarily desirable.

Re:Balance convergence (2)

eyenot (102141) | about a year ago | (#43813897)

If by equilibrium you mean a higher state of entropy, then yes.

You are, however, sadly mistaken in your assumption that having passed a critical mass of orbiting objects means they will suddenly start rapidly falling out of the sky.

On the contrary, what will happen now is the present objects will become more and more likely to have collisions as more and more collisions occur, in a cascade effect.

Eventually there will be a more or less impenetrable field of small debris flying around, and no opportunity to use that orbit for anything purposeful.

Even if we imagine that a roughly homogenous cloud of junk will deflect its own particles out of orbit, consider that only half of all collisions between objects moving at *almost* the same relative speed are probably going to cause the deceleration of both objects. Those are all collisions between two objects along roughly opposite vectors.

Past the point of collisions being orthogonal (and how many collisions are going to be exactly orthogonal, ie the set of planes orthogonal to a given plane versus all other planes that can be made to intersect that plane) we find collisions where one object bumps into the other object in roughly the same direction. One of the objects is going to be accelerated and deflect, even though the other object is going to slow down. The likelihood of them both having precisely the same trajectory and sharing a similar point in space as their velocities balance out is very unlikely, as well.

Yes, there's conservation of energy, but all you're pointing out is that across time -- approaching a very long era of time that, aside from some people who enter hibernation or travel into the future, is no doubt very significant in terms of human events -- "eventually" the debris will fall out of orbit.

This isn't a solution to the problem. Yes, in the cosmic scheme of things, on astronomical scales of time, eventually the stew will stop boiling and will simmer down, and all of the particles in orbit will fall to the atmosphere.

In terms of the future of humanity, however, the situation is clear: we've passed the critical mass of the junk cloud and now it is on rails toward a higher state of entropy.

Our options are either let it sit there and more or less give up on safe space travel outside of certain orbits on a scale of thousands of years, or do something about bringing debris down on purpose.

At any rate, I seriously doubt you took time to think about the consequences of having fewer *operational* satellites in the sky, but more satellites of a tiny and purely junky existence.

and if that carries the spice channel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43812595)

And may god help you if that carried the Spice Channel.

Maybe it was too annoying for LEO? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43812691)

"Pegasus, a small cube weighing just 1.2kg (2.6lb), has been orbiting the Earth at a height of 650km (404 miles), transmitting pictures from space while playing recordings of the Ecuadorean national anthem."

Maybe all the other satellites in orbit were getting annoyed by this little guy and took him out.

Re:Maybe it was too annoying for LEO? (1)

s1lverl0rd (1382241) | about a year ago | (#43815265)

I'm probably just being daft, but wouldn't it be technically impossible to play music from a sattelite? Space being a vacuum and all?

Re:Maybe it was too annoying for LEO? (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | about a year ago | (#43815947)

Think of it like Sputnik. It beams the anthem over and over to anyone who knows what frequency to listen on.

Re:Maybe it was too annoying for LEO? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43816083)

So...this. [wikia.com]

assange (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43812821)

it's all a huge conspiracy against the equatorians for supporting assange

(hey, KGB guys, i am just flamebaiting, dont come to my house, please)

Sounds like a case for. (2)

flayzernax (1060680) | about a year ago | (#43813709)

Geico. Space Insurance.

Re:Sounds like a case for. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43816227)

I'm a piece of Space Junk smashing into your satelite...and if you have cut rate insurance...

Re:Sounds like a case for. (1)

SeaFox (739806) | about a year ago | (#43817705)

Shhhhhh! Don't give them any ideas.

That's the next thing that will happen. Hobbyists and schools unable to experiment with those micro-satellites because suddenly you're required to get insurance for your satellite -- in case it goes off-orbit or otherwise and ends up damaging some expensive telecom satellite.

Borg cube (1)

CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) | about a year ago | (#43813901)

collision between Ecuador's first satellite (a small cubesat) and debris from an upper stage of an old Russian rocket.

Borg cube assimilates space junk. Resistance is futile.

A whole bunch of small unmaneuverable satellites (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year ago | (#43814745)

Maybe shooting up a bunch of small unmaneuverable satellites wasn't such a good idea, it just makes the space junk problem worse.

I smell a commie plot... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43814841)

The known collisions were the result of Russian and Chinese debris. What if our recent weather satellite failure was the same? We have the right to be secure in our bodily fluids!

Mr. President, we can not allow a Space Debris Gap!

GEOS13? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43815655)

Did they ever figure out what caused GEOS-13 not to be pointing at Earth any longer?

How much could this help? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43816321)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bAp_aZgX3B0

Earth: a desolate ringed planet (1)

CityZen (464761) | about a year ago | (#43816649)

In the distant future, when some space-faring race comes across this planetary system, they might wonder why this dessert planet will be surrounded by rings of particles consisting mostly of lightweight metals, plastic bits, fiberglass, silicon, etc.

Hooray! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43816773)

Must be why all the Timecube trolls stopped.

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