LeoLabs, which uses its own ground-based radars to track spaceborne objects, puts collisions at 10% or higher. That’s high, but not uncommon, LeoLabs CEO Daniel Ceperley told CNN Business on Thursday.
But the U.S. military, which uses data from the world’s largest network of radars and telescopes, said the space traffic control team saw “almost zero percent collision probability.”
In response, Ceperley of LeoLabs said in a statement Friday morning: “It is clear that we have respect for [US military’s] 18th Space Control Squadron and their estimates. No one argues that these things are close to each other. “
Meanwhile, Moriba Jah, an astrodynamicist at the University of Texas at Austin who has long been trying to raise public awareness about the abundance of waste in the Earth̵7;s orbit that continues to be in danger of colliding, said that test is the latest evidence only that the world needs an effort in international cooperation to track space traffic.
Space objects are monitored by telescopes and radar operated by governments and private companies. But all those organizations around the world are hesitant to share their data with each other. So, when there is a chance that two objects in space may collide, experts have a very difficult time hashing out exactly how high the risks are. LeoLabs does not share its data publicly.
Ceperley told CNN Business on Thursday that the company decided to raise public awareness about this particular event because the two objects are both large, and because they are in an orbit area that is still clean compared to nearby orbits. The company is also trying to raise more general awareness about the lip problem, he said, to encourage the private sector to develop its cleaning method.
“Several times a week we see dead satellites come within 100 meters of each other, moving at extreme speeds,” Ceperley said.
What happened on Thursday
The Soviet satellite, launched into space in 1989 and used for navigation, weighs nearly 2,000 pounds and is 55 feet long, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The rocket booster, part of a Long Long March vehicle launch likely launched in 2009, is about 20 feet long. None of the items are still in use.
If a rocket and a satellite collide, this will be the first time in more than a decade that two objects have collided spontaneously in space – a situation that space experts expect space to avoid.
The last collision, in 2009, saw a Russian Russian Russian military satellite killed on an active communications satellite operated by US-based telecommunications firm Iridium. That event created a huge cloud of debris, most of which was too small to track from the ground. And destruction is still in orbit, indicating a constant threat to nearby satellites.
McDowell explained on Twitter that a new collision would be “very bad.” The Soviet satellite and Chinese rocket booster could lead to a 10% to 20% increase in the number of debris in space, and each new piece of debris reinforces the likelihood that more collisions will occur.
Part of the problem is that the outer galaxy remains largely untidy. The last widely agreed international agreement governing the use of the galaxy has not been updated for five decades, most of which left the galaxy industry to the police themselves.