China Destroys Satellite, Adds 10% More Debris to Orbit

John P.

Chinese SatelliteAlthough China will be hosting the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee meeting in April, that didn’t keep them from making the colossal mistake on January 11, 2007 of firing an anti-satellite rocket at an old piece of space junk, shattering it into at least 1,000 new pieces of debris now in orbit around the planet.

Space was already so cluttered that scientists live in fear of a chain reaction which will make launching vehicles nearly impossible. They claim that there is already so much floating around that it’s a matter of when, not if, pieces will begin colliding – creating more pieces – and eventually forming an impenetrable belt around the planet.

To put it in perspective prior to the Chinese rocket test, and after 50 years of launches, there were approximately 10,000 pieces at least 4″ wide being tracked in orbit. This one event increased that number by 10% in an instant.

Now, imagine just 5 of those fragments ramming into large old rocket boosters or dead satellites at 18,000 miles per hour and all of a sudden you’ve got a real situation on your hands.

Finally, imagine the impact to life on earth if a chain reaction began wiping out all the satellites. No more GPS, Satellite TV, weather forecasts, early warning nuclear launch systems, and we could go on and on… not to mention killing everyone aboard the International Space Station.

Donald J. Kessler, a former head of the orbital debris program at NASA and a pioneer analyst of the space threat, said Chinese officials at the forum would probably feel “some embarrassment” at the space junk conference in April. (Not that it matters now.)

The New York Times had the following comments:

Today, next year or next decade, some piece of whirling debris will start the cascade, experts say.

“It’s inevitable,” said Nicholas L. Johnson, chief scientist for orbital debris at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “A significant piece of debris will run into an old rocket body, and that will create more debris. It’s a bad situation.”

Geoffrey E. Forden, an arms expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is analyzing the Chinese satellite debris, said China perhaps failed to realize the magnitude of the test’s indirect hazards.

Dr. Forden suggested that Chinese engineers might have understood the risks but failed to communicate them. In China, he said, “the decision process is still so opaque that maybe they didn’t know who to talk to. Maybe you have a disconnect between the engineers and the people who think about policy.”

China, experts note, has 39 satellites of its own — many of them now facing a heightened risk of destruction.

It seems to me that Technology is a double edged sword for humanity. We’ve gained many benefits, but like little inexperienced children we are unable to comprehend what we are doing to our own environment in the process.

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