Space “Dodge Ball” For Years

The Pentagon is slowly gathering information on Tuesday’s low Earth orbit collision of an inactive Russian military satellite with a functioning Iridium commercial communications satellite, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwrightvice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday. The collision caused the loss of Iridium’s satellite, the company confirmed, but only “very limited” disruption of its global voice and data network. Still, it was disconcerting. Cartwright, speaking at a Space Enterprise Council event in Washington D.C., said it will be a long time before the debris field reenters the atmosphere since the collision occurred at a sufficiently high altitude. “My worry is that debris field will be up there for a lot of years, so we’re going to have to play a little bit of ‘dodge ball’ for many tens of years coming,” he said. DOD won’t know exactly where the debris is going to settle for another month or two. “The good news is that once it stabilizes, it’s relatively predictable. The bad news is it’s a large area,” he said. Once DOD is able to understand where most of the wreckage is, it will be able to forecast effectively enough so that satellite owners can safely position their assets, he said. But if certain orbital areas are no longer considered safe, both the commercial and national security communities would face financial costs and mission impacts, Cartwright said. (For more, read Reuters news service report and AFP report.)