Space ‘more expensive and risky’ due to flying satellite debris

Space: Dan Ceperley discusses 2009 Iridium-Cosmos collision

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The CEO of a tech company focused on tracking debris in space has warned that a growing number of fragments has made operating in swathes of space “more expensive and riskier.” Dan Ceperley of US-based Leolabs has spoken out following a recent missile test by Russia which destroyed an obsolete satellite and sent fragments of debris hurtling into the Earth’s orbit. 

Mr Ceperley told “In 2009, we saw this Iridium-Cosmos collision, a dead satellite and a commercial satellite collided and created 1000s of pieces of debris, just in an instant.

“Two satellites were turned into 1000s of pieces of debris, and a lot of that debris is still up there in space.

“And it spreads out so it initially starts kind of like a shotgun blast or two shotgun blasts like a cluster of debris and then over the course of weeks, it kind of spreads out into a shell around the Earth.

“So you end up with this kind of debris shell and so we saw that from the collision there was also another weapons test in 2007 that created 1000s of pieces of debris.

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“A lot of it’s around the altitude of 750 kilometres, 800 kilometres, an altitude that was used a little more heavily in the past but now it’s got about the densest debris population.

“So it makes sense for satellite operators to use other altitudes.

“That’s what we see when these sorts of events occur it just becomes more expensive and riskier to operate in a certain portion of space.

“And so it’s kind of pushes satellite operators away.”

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In November, Russia conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) rocket test which blew up a retired satellite.

Russia’s Nudol missile struck the Kosmos-1408 satellite on November 15.

The fallout from the destroyed satellite causes astronauts on the Internation space station to take emergency measures as fragments flew towards the structure. 

Dan Ceperely told that hundreds of thousands of pieces of old satellites, missiles and rockets each hold the potential to trigger a “catastrophic collision” 

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Mr Ceperley said: “The larger stuff, is kind of 10 centimetres and larger, and it’s all made by human activities in space.

“So it’s dead satellites, it’s old rocket bodies and it’s pieces of those, whether they kind of blew up themselves or were part of a test or part of a collision.

“They’re fragments of old satellites and rockets, and they’re typically in space for a long time, decades at a time.

“Just the way space works things are going so fast that they lap the Earth every 90 minutes, and most of them will stay up there for years.

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