Satellite Collision Highlights Need For Space Traffic Control

The crash of an American Iridium commercial communications satellite with an out-of-use Russian satellite Tuesday creates risks from speeding debris, experts say.

K.C. Jones

February 13, 2009

1 Min Read
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Space traffic experts say that at least 500 pieces of potentially dangerous debris from the collision of two satellites highlight risks that should be discussed immediately.

The U.S. military monitors tens of thousands of pieces of space debris and tries to assess whether they pose a risk from collisions. The collision Tuesday of an American Iridium communications satellite and an inactive Russian Cosmos 2251 satellite has added nearly 700 more pieces at an elevation close to other satellites and the International Space Station.

NASA acknowledged that the debris could pose a slight risk to the space station, which could be moved in an attempt to avoid any debris that may move in its direction. The Secure World Foundation, however, said the collision and subsequent risks point to a need for space traffic control.

"This collision underscores in a dramatic way the importance of instituting an international civil space situational awareness (SSA) system as soon as possible," Ray Williamson, executive director of the private foundation for secure and sustainable use of space, said in a statement. "In the absence of reliable ways to clear debris from orbit, it will be increasingly important to follow all active satellites to prevent future preventable collisions."

The topic also came up at the 46th Session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna this week.

"Since space is becoming an increasingly congested environment, heightened space situational awareness as well as international cooperation between governments and industry is critical in the future," the committee said statement.

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