Iridium satellite destroyed in collision

February 12, 2009

“Your call cannot be completed as dialed”

An Iridium telecommunications satellite was destroyed in a high-speed collision with a defunct Russian military satellite, Aviation Week reports.

The Russian Cosmos 2251 comms sat collided with the Iridium bird, a member of the Big LEO constellation, at a closing speed of 7 miles per second.

“It was a hefty clip,” Nicholas Johnson of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, told Aviation Leak.

US Strategic Air Command told New Scientist that it has already detected more than 500 pieces of debris resulting from the space prang.

The debris cloud poses a “very small [but] elevated risk” to the International Space Station, which lies 271 miles below the orbit of the collision. The ISS is capable of performing “debris avoidance maneuver[s]” should this become necessary.

The shower of space junk further clutters an already hazardous orbital environment, coming two years after China smashed one of its Fengyun weather satellites to smithereens with an earth-launched missile.

Iridium’s communications network will not be permanently affected, as the company plans to deploy one of its hot spares, which it keeps in other orbits, within 30 days. Now that’s resilience through redundancy.

Update

New Scientist has a handy Q&A about satellite traffic control (or lack thereof), plus a simulation of the crash and resultant debris clouds.