[amsat-bb] Re: Space Debris:

Stephen Melachrinos melachri at verizon.net
Tue Apr 13 16:22:34 PDT 2010

Greg -

I didn't see anyone else reply, so I'll try.

No, it's not coincidence. After the Iridium collision last year, the US Air Force decided it was in everyone's best interest for them to run conjunction analyses against many more space objects than they had previously analyzed, and report their predictions to system owners. Previously, their concern was primarily the US government's spacecraft, so we (in the amateur community) and many commercial operators never knew what was happening to our birds unless we did (or paid for) the work ourselves. But the collision (as well as the Chinese ASAT demonstration) showed that the resulting debris fields were a major hazard to everyone, themselves included. So they must have allocated more resources to the problem, as this is a massive undertaking. (Note that some reports say that the US has about 20,000 objects that are tracked and cataloged. In theory, this means propagating the ephemeris of all of these for some number of days and comparing all possible combinations across the time period of the analysis.)

Unfortunately, many (if not most) of the objects no longer have maneuvering capability. If a vehicle can maneuver, these warnings give them time to try and increase the separation prior to the predicted close approach. (You might have heard of some times when a space shuttle does one of these maneuvers.) But if you can't maneuver (as is the case with AO-51), all we can do is watch and wait.


Apr 13, 2010 01:45:32 AM, ko6th_greg at hotmail.com wrote:

> Is it just a coincidence that these warnings seem to be coming pretty often recently, or did NORAD change their reporting procedures, or is 
> all the junk up there getting to critical mass where nothing is safe? It seems like we're heading into a situation like nuclear fission, where 
> you get enough stuff interacting, and it sets up a chain reaction of collisions.
> Greg KO6TH

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