London, Feb 19 (ANI): The cloud of debris in the region around Earth, caused by the collision of two satellites on February 10, poses a new risk to many scientific missions and may signal the demise of the Hubble Space Telescope.
On February 10, an active communications satellite owned by Iridium Satellite of Bethesda, Maryland, and a defunct Russian military-communications satellite collided some 800 kilometers above Siberia at more than 10 kilometers per second.
The cloud of debris initially consisted of 600 objects large enough to be tracked by the US space-surveillance network, and experts expect that number to grow to more than 1,000 within the coming weeks.
Simulations suggest there will be millions more pieces too small to track.
According to a report in Nature News, NASA is monitoring the increased threat carefully, and if it is as bad as some fear, the agency may have to cancel the proposed shuttle-servicing mission slated for later this year.
The risk of impact for a mission to the space station is about 1 in 300, but for missions to the higher and more tilted orbit of Hubble the risk is greater.
Without that mission, the telescope's days are numbered, even if none of the new debris comes anywhere close to it.
Even before last week's collision, the added debris from the 2007 Chinese test had pushed up the Hubble mission's risk of a catastrophic impact to 1 in 185.
NASA's usual limit on such risk is 1 in 200, so according to Mark Matney, an orbital- debris specialist at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, the situation before last week as already being "uncomfortably close to unacceptable levels". "This is only going to add on to that," he said.
Matney believes that the agency will know within a week or two whether the mission can go ahead. (ANI)