Close call as satellites speed past each other at 53,000km an hour
Jan. 30, 2020
Two satellites travelling through space at 53,000 kilometres an hour had a close call on Wednesday.
The decommissioned pieces of technology - one a pioneering international space telescope launched in 1983 and the other an experimental US craft launched in 1967 - were travelling in opposite directions and passed each other 900km above the US city of Pittsburgh.
LeoLabs, a company focusing on space debris tracking and collision prevention, monitored the movements of the two satellites and shared its findings on Twitter.
It predicted the satellites missed each other by just 12 metres. The probability of collision was calculated to be one in 20.
LeoLabs continued to monitor the paths of each satellite but confirmed its data showed there was no new evidence of debris. It said it would assess the situation again when the objects passed each other over its Kiwi SpPace Radar located in Central Otago.
This type of crash, though quite rare, had the potential to cause widespread damage to other spacecraft orbiting Earth.
There would have been no threat to the US city it happened above as the debris would have deteriorated in the atmosphere before reaching Earth.
There hasn't been a large collision since 2009 when an active communication satellite and a decommissioned Russian satellite crashed, sending 1000 large objects into Earth's low orbit.