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12-Feb-09 | Orbital collision “worst ever”

An active Iridium satellite collided with a defunct Russian military communications satellite over Siberia on Tuesday, 10 February, destroying both spacecraft.

The impact—at around 425 nautical miles altitude and a closing speed of roughly 7 miles per second—generated a massive debris cloud that is still being assessed; it has the potential to rival the one created by China’s infamous impactor test in 2007. This will pose an increased risk to many satellites in orbit at similar altitudes, including the rest of the Iridium constellation; NASA’s “A-Train” of Earth observers; and the latest-generation weather satellite NOAA-19, launched just last week aboard Delta 338.

The Iridium satellite is one of 46 launched in 1997; some 30 satellites were launched aboard Delta flights 242, 244, 246, 248, 250, and 251. Another 14 flew on Russian Proton vehicles, and 2 more on a Chinese vehicle. The satellite involved, Iridium 33, launched with 6 siblings aboard a Proton on 14-Sep-97.

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