(Photo : courtesy NASA)
A small Russian satellite was apparently damaged, perhaps severely, when it collided with orbiting space junk left in 2007 after China destroyed one of its own orbiting satellites using an experimental anti-satellite weapon.
The space collision appears to have occurred on Jan. 22, when a chunk of the Chinese Fengyun 1C satellite struck the 17-pound Russian small Ball Lens In The Space (BLITS) retroreflector satellite, according to data from the Center for Space Standards & Innovation (CSSI) in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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CSSI technical program manager T.S. Kelso told Space.com the Fengyun 1C debris has posed a hazard to other satellites and manned spacecraft ever since.
In fact, the BLITS- Fengyun 1C crash is the fourth known collision of an active satellite with orbiting debris. Scientists report that orbiting debris also impacted with active satellites 1996, 2007, and 2009. The accident in 2009 occurred when a nonfunctional Russian military satellite crossed paths with a United States telecommunications satellite.
Scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration NASA estimate that the orbiting debris cloud left after the Fengyun 1C satellite exploded included about 500,000 objects larger than a marble and 22,000 bigger than a softball. Even such relatively small tiny pieces can cause severe damage to satellites --- and even the International Space Station, because they traveling at such a high velocity, about 17,500 mph.
The Russian BLITS satellite was a so-called nanosatellite, which can weigh between 2.2 and 22 pounds and consists of two outer hemispheres made of a special low- refraction glass and an inner ball lens made of a high-refraction-glass. It was launched in 2009 on a Russian rocket and was tracked by the International Laser Ranging Service for precision satellite laser-ranging experiments.
NASA believes there are at least 600,000 objects larger than 0.39 inches (1 cm) in diameter and at least 16,000 larger than 3.9 inches (10 cm) circling the planet and composed of abandoned satellites, destroyed satellites and myriad other parts from spacecraft.
Approximately 900 active satellites currently orbit the Earth.