TWO satellites will make a nerve-shredding close approach to one another tomorrow, scientists have warned.
The high-speed space contraptions will meet 560 miles above Earth's surface and come within 15 metres of one another.
Satellite trackers say that IRAS – a dead space telescope – and the defunct science probe GGSE-4 have a one in 100 chance of colliding.
A crash would spray dangerous space debris across Earth's orbit that could damage other satellites.
"This is a really, really close encounter," space expert Professor Alice Gorman, of Flinders University in Australia, told ScienceAlert.
"And if this does actually come to pass, there's potentially a large amount of debris that will be created.
"I would say this is one of one of the most dangerous possible collisions that we've seen for some time."
According to data from LeoLabs, a site that tracks the position of satellites, the spacecraft will pass at 11:39pm GMT on Wednesday.
They're predicted to zip within just 50 to 100 feet of each other.
Normally, those in charge of a satellite must perform evasive manoeuvres to avoid such collisions.
However, because both probes were decommissioned long ago, there's no way of communicating with them.
They're not lightweights either: IRAS weighs 1,083 kilos – more than your average hatchback – while GGSE-4 weighs 84 kilos.
Flying through space at nine miles per second (32,000mph), they could hit at some pace, too.
According to Professor Gorman, if the two spacecraft collide, the smaller of the pair will be completely obliterated.
The larger satellite will survive intact, but will likely dump a load of space debris into orbit.
These fragments pose no threat to Earth, but could be a risk to other satellites.
"They're going to be colliding at an incredibly high speed," Professor Gorman said.
"At that speed, it's going to probably cause the smaller satellite to break up completely into smaller fragments.
"Each of those fragments becomes a piece of space debris in its own right.
"So you increase the number of pieces of space debris which increases the risk of colliding with a functioning satellite."
There's still a chance, of course that the satellites will not collide.
However, such collisions have happened in the past, and are expected to become more frequent as humanity continues to fill Earth's orbit with space gadgetry.
Terrifying space weapons of the future
Here are three of the scariest…
Rods from God
- A strange but utterly terrifying weapon has been dubbed "rods from the God" and is based on the concept of creating man-made meteorites that can be guided towards the enemy.
- Instead of using rocks rods the size of telephone poles are deployed.
- These would be made out of tungsten — a rare metal that can stand the intense heat generated by entering Earth's atmosphere.
- One satellite fires the rods towards the Earth's atmosphere while the other steers them to a target on the ground.
- Reaching speeds of 7000mph they hit the ground with the force of a small nuclear weapon — but crucially creating no radiation fall out.
- As bizarre as it sounds, a US Congressional report recently revealed the military has been pushing ahead with the kinetic space weapons.
Molten metal cannons
- This intriguing idea is being developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
- It is called the Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition or MAHEM.
- This game changing rail-gun can fire a jet of molten metal, hurled through space at several hundred miles per second by the most powerful electromagnets ever built.
- The molten metal can then morph into an aerodynamic slug during flight and pierce through another spacecraft or satellite and a munition explodes inside.
Space force ships
- Already the United States is powering head with its spacecraft, although China is busy developing one of their own.
- The top secret American XS-1 under development by DARPA.
- It can travel ten times the speed of sound and launch missiles.
- Meanwhile an unmanned craft is currently being developed in the China Aerodynamics Research and Development Centre in Mianyang, Sichuan province, which is also known as Base 29.
There are growing concerns that humanity could be trapped on Earth by too much junk in Earth's orbit.
A catastrophic clutter of space debris left behind by the satellites could block rockets from leaving Earth, an effect known as "Kessler syndrome".
"The worst case is: You launch all your satellites, you go bankrupt, and they all stay there," European Space Agency scientist Dr Stijn Lemmens told Scientific American last year.
"Then you have thousands of new satellites without a plan of getting them out of there. And you would have a Kessler-type of syndrome."
In other news, earlier this month a secret Russian spy satellite "exploded" in space – and it may have been deliberate.
Nasa recently revealed the design of a Moon lander that could take astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024.
The space agency has released an unusual image of the "bat-shaped" death explosion of a massive star.
What do you think will happen if the satellites collide? Let us know in the comments!Source: Read Full Article