Space: The Crowded Frontier


In what Reuters is reporting as a first, two satellites orbiting at around 485 miles up have collided:

The crash, which took place on Tuesday above Russia's Arctic north, involved a spacecraft of Iridium Satellite LLC and a Russian communications satellite, said Air Force Colonel Les Kodlick of the U.S. Strategic Command…..

The command's Joint Space Operations Center is tracking 500 to 600 new bits of debris, some as small as 4 inches across, in addition to the 18,000 or so other man-made objects it previously catalogued in space, Kodlick said.

Bethesda, Maryland-based Iridium operates the world's largest commercial satellite constellation made up of some 66 cross-linked satellites plus orbiting spares. It provides voice and data services for areas not served by ground-based communications networks.

The operation remained healthy, though some customers may experience brief outages pending a temporary fix expected to be in place by Friday, said Liz DeCastro, an Iridium spokeswoman……

The Russian craft, a barrel-shaped cylinder with a mass of 1,800 to 1,900 pounds (800 to 850 kg) known as Cosmos 2251, was launched in June 1993 and probably stopped working five to 10 years ago, he said.

Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote about a burgeoning wave of private space entrepreneurs scheming to further crowd Earth's orbit for the good of humanity's future, and hopefully their pocketbooks, for Reason magazine's January 2007 issue.