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Old Soviet satellite breaks apart in orbit after space debris collision News By Tereza Pultarova

published August 30, 2023

The collision highlights the space junk problem that threatens our use of space.

A three-decade-old Soviet satellite has disintegrated in orbit some 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) above Earth, likely following a space debris strike. 

The disintegration of the satellite, either the Kosmos-2143 or Kosmos-2145 spacecraft, was reported on X, previously Twitter, by astrophysicist and space debris expert Jonathan McDowell. The event highlights the precarious situation in Earth's orbit where old objects accumulated throughout the more than 60 years of space exploration and utilization are now posing threats to new, still functioning satellites. 

"Another possible orbital impact event: Seven debris objects cataloged from a defunct Soviet communications satellite launched in 1991," McDowell said in a post on X, previously known as Twitter. "Debris appears to be from either Kosmos-2143 or Kosmos-2145, two of 8 Strela-1M sats launched on the same rocket." 

Old soviet satellites and used rocket stages left at altitudes above 500 miles (800 km) are of great concern to space sustainability researchers. Floating too high to be taken down by the natural decay of their orbits caused by the drag of Earth's residual atmosphere, these objects have already been involved in several incidents. 

In February 2009, a cousin of the Kosmos-2143 and Kosmos-2145 spacecraft, a satellite designated as Kosmos 2251, smashed into an operational satellite of the U.S. telecommunications company Iridium 490 miles (789 kilometers) above Earth, creating a giant cloud of space debris. That incident, together with a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test, is responsible for the majority of space junk fragments currently hurtling around Earth. 

In January this year, a dead Soviet spy satellite and a used Soviet rocket stage came within 20 feet (6 meters) of each other in a cluttered region about 600 miles (1,000 km) above Earth. A full-on collision between those two objects would have spawned thousands of new dangerous pieces of debris. 

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