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Pieces of orbiting space junk set for very close pass

Two bits of discarded Russian and Chinese space hardware may pass within less than 25m of each other.

There is growing concern about the potential for more collisions in space (Artwork image)

Two pieces of old space junk may come within 25m of each other, according to a Silicon Valley start-up which uses radars to track objects in orbit.

LeoLabs has been monitoring the paths of a defunct Russian satellite and a discarded Chinese rocket segment.

It sees them converging over Antarctica at 00:56 GMT (01:56 BST) on Thursday.

Other experts who’ve looked at the available data think Kosmos-2004 and the ChangZheng rocket stage will pass with a far greater separation.

With a combined mass at over 2.5 tonnes and relative velocity of 14.66km/s (32,800mph), any collision would be catastrophic and produce a shower of debris.

And given the altitude of almost 1,000km, the resulting fragments would stay around for an extremely long time, posing a threat to operational satellites.

Neither Kosmos-2004, which was launched in 1989, nor the ChangZheng rocket stage, launched in 2009, can be moved. So, there is no possibility to influence the event.

LeoLabs offers orbital mapping services using its own radar network.

Data from the most recent event updates show miss distance of 25 meters (+/- 18 meters at 1-sigma uncertainty). We will gather observation data tonight from the first radar pass after TCA to hopefully confirm no new debris is…


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