Science

Good news — satellites on potential collision course missed each other

Two defunct satellites that looked as though they might collide late Wednesday afternoon have missed each other.

Collision could have created hundreds of pieces of debris, threatening other satellites

This image provided by LeoLabs shows the potential near-miss or collision of the two defunct satellites. In the end, the two satellites missed each other. (LeoLabs)

Two defunct satellites that looked as though they might collide Wednesday evening have missed each other.

Private satellite-tracking company LeoLabs tweeted that it was "pleased to report" that following the projected close encounter between the two satellites, it saw no evidence of new debris.

The company had predicted the two satellites would pass within 15 and 30 metres of each other above Pittsburgh on Wednesday at 6:39 p.m. ET. That put them at a 1-in-100 risk of a collision that could potentially create hundreds of pieces of space debris, threatening satellites in a similar orbit.

The first satellite, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), a joint venture between NASA and the Netherlands Agency for Aerospace Programmes, was launched in 1983 and is roughly 954 kilograms. The second, smaller GGSE-4 (also known as POPPY 5B) was launched by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in 1967 and weighs about 85 kilograms. 

LeoLabs said the near miss "served to highlight the collision risks caused by derelict satellites in LEO [low-Earth orbit]."

It said it would continue to monitor the space environment for similar close approaches and flag high-risk scenarios.

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