back to article Star wreck: There's a 1 in 20 chance a NASA telescope and US military satellite will smash into each other today

There’s a small but distinct chance a defunct NASA infrared telescope and an old US Naval Research Laboratory satellite will crash into each other on Wednesday evening high above Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. LeoLabs, a Silicon Valley-based biz monitoring objects in low Earth orbits, raised the alarm over the potential collision …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Recycling

    Perhaps some enterprising chap with access to rocketry could start a scrap business with a revamped shuttle. After all they had a load bay and an arm to load it, get it up there and leave it there, collect old sats select the good bits and launch the crap into a safe re-entry use a service system to bring more ful for sat chasing and taking back the good bits for sale, I bet even collectors would be interested in old sat bits.

    Cue Steptoe & Son theme.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Recycling

      Just put the good bits in the back of Musk's Tesla...

      1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Recycling

        Was there a tow-bar on his Tesla?

        1. Baldrickk Silver badge

          Re: Recycling

          I know it's a joke, but here's a serious answer.

          No tow bar on a Roadster.

          You can get one on a model X, I believe. You can definitely get one on a Model 3 as they sent me the advertisements for it when they launched it as an option.

          however reading through the gumph, it looks like it's there purely as a mounting point for a rear bike rack, as the load limit could be reached by a small trailer, when empty - hence 90% of the leaflet being about cycling.

          I found it funny.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Recycling

            My neighbours have a Tesla, and the towing weight limit means they can't take bikes for the whole family on holiday with them, or in fact, go on holiday in the UK without going neurotic trying to make sure there are charging points on route or at their destination.

            It's a nice car, but it wouldn't work with my lifestyle.

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Recycling

      The devil in the detail is the fuel you need to change orbits. (And then the extra detail of getting that fuel into orbit in the first place)

      Remember kids: Flying in space is nothing like Star Trek Wars.

      1. chris 251
        Holmes

        Re: Recycling

        Surely they could work out some orbital path that'll intersect with a lot of the bigger bits of junk over time???

        1. Persona Silver badge

          Re: Recycling

          Intersecting orbits are more of a problem than a solution,

      2. mr.K

        Re: Recycling

        Sigh... you are mixing up two different TV-shows, Star Galactica and Trek Wars 5.

      3. rcxb Bronze badge

        Re: Recycling

        Yes, indeed. The better option is to slingshot a wad of bubblegum attached to a length twine at the dead satellite in question.

    3. richardcox13
      Coat

      Re: Recycling

      > vCue Steptoe & Son theme.

      No Star Cops.,.. I seem to recall one episode where this was done (satellite in question was dumped by the Americans to cover up illegal biological experiments... and then found by the scrap hunters).

      My coat is the one with the DVDs in it...

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Recycling

        Curses- wheer is my BOX!

      2. Charlie van Becelaere

        Re: Recycling

        > vCue Steptoe & Son theme.

        Perhaps Quark? A 1970s series following a space garbage scow (or so I remember it) with great hilarity meant to ensue.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Recycling

          "The clone is the pretty one."

    4. WonkoTheSane Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: No lineage?

      I would suggest you ask the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) about "Salvage One" starring Andy Griffith,

      1. Remy Redert

        Re: No lineage?

        Planetes is an anime series where space junk and it's clean up occupies a central role in the story.

        There's a manga too, which goes a fair bit further in the story.

      2. Pirate Dave Silver badge

        Re: No lineage?

        I remember watching Salvage One on TV as a lad. It's one of those things from my childhood I remember fondly for no apparent reason, other than it dealt with space travel.

      3. TheProf
        WTF?

        Re: No lineage?

        I remember watching that. I thought it was a TV movie. How did they stretch it out to 20 episodes?

        And your next question is.... What was the name of the TV movie in which a small boy stows away on a manned rocket to the Moon?

        1. elkster88

          Re: No lineage?

          Typing this: "boy stows away on a manned rocket to the Moon" into Google throws up this: Wikipedia article on "Stowaway to the Moon".

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. bpfh Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Recycling

      Orbiting waste collection is not as easy as it sounds. Years of Star (Wars|Trek) have a shuttle rendez-vousing with some other craft, pull up along side, board, and have shootouts, but with magical fuel tanks that never need topping up - except when you are being chased by the bad guys - it's a lot easier.

      Given that fuel is a big problem given how much fuel it takes to put fuel up in space, having to speed up and down, change orbits, chase something down, catch up, slow down to match it's speed, then either slow it down enough for it to fall back, or speed it up to get it to fly somewhere else far far away then rince & repeat for the next piece of junk, all keeping your own attitude stable as every action has an equal and opposite reaction and the like: kick something down, you will also be kicking your craft up, etc: it's definitely non trivial. Just going out on a spacewalk with a net, and giving whatever a small punt in the direction of the earth is not going to be enough, and all this takes a long time.

      http://www.scifidoc.com/scitalk/2017/2/18/orbital-mechanics-for-dummies

      1. the spectacularly refined chap

        Re: Recycling

        change orbits, chase something down, catch up, slow down to match it's speed,

        Orbital mechanics is often counter-intuitive. You need to slow down to catch something up, then speed up to 'brake'. Slowing down pulls you into a lower, faster orbit. Speeding up again raises you to the same height and speed as the target.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Recycling

        "http://www.scifidoc.com/scitalk/2017/2/18/orbital-mechanics-for-dummies"

        That's a great page, thanks for the link!

    6. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Recycling

      Paging the Jawa....

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Recycling

        Cue Peakies with a horse with a rocket up its arse...

      2. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Paging the Jawa....

        They're building new ones in India, but I doubt it can reach orbit. The Czech ones definitely can't.

    7. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Recycling

      The shuttle would make this utterly impossible; it had launch costs of what $1.1 billion per launch?

      SpaceX can do a launch at $60 million, which is better but I doubt that it's commercially viable to pick up satellites.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Recycling

        Shuttle was about $400m per launch.

        The $1.2bn number comes from adding up all the assocaited costs, including R&D and dividing them by the number of launches. Obviously, the more flights you have - the lower the cost of each will become, counting it by that method.

        By the way SpaceX aren't $60m any longer, I don't think. They were talking originally about dropping prices by a third for those who took re-used rockets. So I'm assuming that all their launch costs have dropped by now - unless you insist on specifying a brand new rocket.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Recycling

          >Shuttle was about $400m per launch.

          But your payload had to be manned flight rated which 2x-3x your costs

    8. AndrueC Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Recycling

      Salvage 1. I loved that show when I was a kid.

      It appears to be on YouTube. I might have a quick look although I suspect it'll shatter my nostalgic memories :-/

    9. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Recycling

      **Edit Salvage one - Already mentioned**

    10. eldakka Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: Recycling

      collect old sats

      I'd think there'd be better money in collecting new sats and selling them to the opposing nations intelligence agencies.

      1. not.known@this.address Bronze badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Recycling

        Didn't James Bond stop Blofeld and his minions doing this in 'You Only Live Twice'? (And besides, what do you think the X-37 is for..?).

        Oh hold on a minute,, there's someone knocking on the door...

  2. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    Surely they can create some sort of international agreement that all future payloads have to have sufficient fuel at EOL to de-orbit?

    1. fgeva

      I think that's actually the case now, but well, 1967 and 1983... There's a lot of old stuff up there

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Maybe add the proviso that you have to grab hold of one of the bits of junk and bring that down at the same time.

      2. AndrueC Silver badge
        Joke

        I was born in 1967 and have good memories of 1983. So yes, there's some old stuff around :)

  3. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Pittsburgh, Philadelphia?

    Is there a small chance that it is different from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia?

      Now if you'd said Rotherham, Brexitland, I'd have cheered.

      1. Rich 2 Silver badge

        Re: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia?

        I was born, and grew-up in Rotherham. It was an ok-ish, quite bustling place when I was tiny (what did I know?). Having gone back there for the very last time a few years ago (never again!), I can confirm that zapping it into oblivion would be the best thing any defunct satellite could ever do - it is a complete and utter shit hole. It makes Stevenage look goo... actually scrap that - Stevenage should be the next target

        1. hplasm Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia?

          Slough.

          It has dibs.

          needs a big target painted on it though...

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia?

            Doncaster would like to have a word with you

            1. Rich 2 Silver badge

              Re: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia?

              Oh yes. I lived in Donni for quite a while too. Horrible place. No greenery. And it smells - no it really does!

          2. M. Poolman

            Re: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia? Slough.

            Come friendly bombs ...

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia?

          Stevenage is having a billion quid invested in its town centre. So with Airbus and GSK it's OK. Just be careful where you go and when.

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia?

      Yes, Pennsylvania, not Philadelphia. That's a bad oops.

      It's been fixed. Don't forget to email corrections@theregister.co.uk if you spot anything wrong.

      C.

  4. Rich 11 Silver badge

    it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

    The collision would have a total kinetic energy equivalent to about 70 tonnes of TNT going bang. That's a tad more than a car hitting a shopping cart.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

      It would be like a car hitting a shopping cart at 39,000mph...

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

        What's that converted to Brazillian Funbags?

        1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

          Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

          I apologise but I believe I made a unitary faux-pas. Isn't the correct El-Reg unit the Bulgarian Funbag?

          1. hplasm Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

            Less hairy?

          2. Benson's Cycle

            Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

            Either is acceptable - note the url

    2. DBH

      Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

      It would be like a car hitting a shopping cart at 500 times the speed limit

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

        Which of them do you think will end up in the canal?

      2. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

        What's the speed limit for a shopping cart?

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

          Depends on how many dodgy wheels it has.

        2. Woza
          Coat

          Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

          "What's the speed limit for a shopping cart?"

          African or European?

          Icon: the one with coconuts in the pockets.

    3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

      "it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart" doesn't give me enough data to assess how serious the situation is....is the shopping cart full of beer or full of vegetables?

      1. ClockworkOwl
        Mushroom

        Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

        Nitroglycerine!!!

      2. Amentheist

        Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

        I imagine the 'car' ends up sliced in mesh hole shaped cubes?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

          "I imagine the 'car' ends up sliced in mesh hole shaped cubes?"

          Makes sense. IIRC you can cut steel with thin paper if it's travelling fast enough. Same with building demolition - IIRC shaped copper is the cutting edge of an IED-type device to cut through reinforced concrete pillars.

    4. Benson's Cycle

      Re: it would be like a car hitting a shopping cart

      You obviously haven't seen some of the "cars" on the road today. Or the sheer amount of junk food some people manage to pile onto a shopping cart.

      Sainsbury's car park at weekends is far more frightening than any "managed motorway".

  5. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge
    Mushroom

    At those speeds...

    That few kilograms (90,5kg) satellite hits like a...

    A warhead fired from the 16-inch guns of the USS Iowa doesn't even BEGIN to describe the carnage.

    If it was in the atmosphere, the speed could be numbered as Mach 42.8, as is FORTY-TWO times the speed of sound.

    A handy Kinetic Energy calculator online allowed the comparison: if it was a locomotive at 100 metric tons, it would be moving at 440m/s or Mach 1.28.

    Plugging in the USS Iowa 16-inch gun numbers (thanks wikipedia, 1225kg at 762m/s) you'd have a salvo of 27,3 warheads.

    Considering USS Iowa had nine of those-guns, that's the equivalent firepower of a triple broadside gun salute floating in space.

    Have fun making comparisons. I love to compare those numbers to a motorcyclist moving at ever-increasing speeds, but in this case, the numbers stop making sense half-way through.

    Have fun yourself:

    https://www.calculatorsoup.com/calculators/physics/kinetic.php

    Well, I assumed that large satellite is standing still, and the small one is moving at those relative speeds. If you assume the small one is still, the large one is moving at those speeds, that changes the kinetic energy involved... substantially. Which makes it worse. Matter of point of reference here, I won't bother to solve.

    Because we have only the relative speeds...

    Anyway.

    Brainstorm from there.

    1. Avatar of They
      Thumb Up

      Re: At those speeds...

      So... Sounds the plot of Gravity then.

      Cool.

      1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

        Re: At those speeds...

        And ironic that it's a satellite involved in the Gravity Gradient Stabilization Experiment!

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: At those speeds...

          I'm impressed that back then they were able to build a satellite that small yet still capable of stabilising gravity.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Pint

            capable of stabilising gravity.

            It's mostly working alright, but it's clearly insufficiently powerful to penetrate the shielding that the roof of a pub provides.

    2. Ben1892

      Re: At those speeds...

      So the way I read it, the 1 Jub payload will hit the 259.5 Jub telescope - which according to back of fag packet, if each object is travelling at 0.2435% of the maximum velocity of a sheep in vacuum works out about 1046149301 Norrises or about 7 tons of TNT

    3. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: At those speeds...

      I have found that the relative closing speed is about 576.25 nanoparsecs per fortnight.

      Icon for collision effect.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: At those speeds...

      "If you assume the small one is still, the large one is moving at those speeds, that changes the kinetic energy involved... substantially. "

      My brain hurts. Shirley in space all movement is relative?

      1. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge
        Coat

        Re: At those speeds...

        All movement is relative, so is the kinetic energy.

        Changing the referential changes the mass that is "moving", so it does alter Kinetic energy too.

        Let go and have a beer.

  6. 0laf Silver badge
    Alien

    500 miles up. I'd have thought that a little atmospheric drag would have brought these birds down in the decades after they ran out of fuel. Clearly I know Jack schitt about this stuff.

    It might have been a better use of his billions if Ol' Elon had worked out some space rubbish collection system rather than plotting on putting another 42k lumps of shite up there.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Headmaster

      500? Off the top of my head I'd guess it would take 100s of years up three.

      (Looks it up)

      https://www.nasa.gov/news/debris_faq.html

      "Debris left in orbits below 370 miles (600 km) normally fall back to Earth within several years. At altitudes of 500 miles (800 km), the time for orbital decay is often measured in decades. Above 620 miles (1,000 km), orbital debris normally will continue circling Earth for a century or more."

      I was slightly off, but close. :P

      Really. Why do people post musings before checking? In the time it took to post your question, proof read it, and watch the page reload, you *could have had the real answer*!

      No excuse either, if you can post the question, you already have a device able to access the answer! Education will be much more important than cool social points on a blog/forum, and much better for your mind than constant daydreaming of what "must be" because we "theorised" it without any data!

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Why do people post musings before checking?

        Since 0laf's musing was more accurate than yours, I have to wonder that too.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          I have upvoted you. But the difference between 50 years and 200 years in astronomical things can be nothing. Is that even an order of magnitude wrong? Besides, if we had the orbit a little higher, it WOULD be hundreds of years. So one of us was accurate on the timescales, the other inaccurate on the distances.

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        If only orbits were circles.

        Prospero X3 has a perigee about 332 miles and apogee about 816 miles. It's still quite happy going round its 82 degree inclination since it left Woomera in 1971.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Why do people post musings before checking?"

        It's more fun!

        If everyone posting looked up the correct answer before posting, a lot of posts would never get made in the first place and there'd likely be little to no follow-ups to said postings. The comments section is often the best part of the article and the tangents that many discussions go off on can be more educational than the original article.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Why do people post musings before checking?""

        But the question is - what is one checking against? Many times in my career I found there was a consensus for the "wrong" answer. Usually it was the "right" answer at one general level of abstraction - but only within underlying constraints that people ignored or didn't know about.

    2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      PS, Starlink is similar altitude to the ISS, and will deorbit quicker than a decade on average.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Drag depends on surface area - the ISS is the size of field.

        1. Benson's Cycle

          Greater precision is needed - weak, electromagnetic, gravitational, football, Rugby, or the one that Judas bought?

    3. vtcodger Silver badge

      Starlink

      I'm not that big a fan of Elon Musk. On a truthiness scale he's too often not that much higher than Donald J Trump. But those 42000 Starlink satellites will purportedly provide affordable, high speed, digital service to the half of humanity that doesn't live in urban areas. Given the demonstrated inability of governments, and private companies to get even basic cell-phone service -- much less high speed internet -- to remote areas, maybe Starlink is worth the aggravation. ... If it works (It likely will) ... And if it's actually affordable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Starlink

        provide affordable, high speed, digital service to the half of humanity that doesn't live in urban areas.

        There's a reason some of us choose not to live in urban areas, you know...

      2. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Starlink

        Well, here in Scotland which is sufficiently and steeply lumpy making line of sight an issue our government in Edinburgh has enabled and encouraged and funded local folk to find and contract the option which suits them. Thus it is possible to run an internet business from much of the Highlands and Islands now (if you can find a domicile to inhabit that is).

        As I understand it there are a variety of systems from paying to get fibre run to them then a local wifi system to small line of sight relays (rather than big transmission towers) and also local wifi. In many villages in Scotland the houses are often some distance apart. The village centre is the local hall for Ceilidhs, wedding parties (see ceilidhs) etc, etc.

        There’s one such quite near here in Dundee out in the Angus countryside. Google Maps has a village marker on the village hall. Nearest sizeable place is a choice between Carnoustie and Arbroath with Dundee a bit more distant. Used to drive through there to the boss’s place.

        1. vtcodger Silver badge

          Re: Starlink

          I've actually been involved in trying to get some sort of usable digital access to some rural users in Vermont, albeit not recently. Access is possible. Sort of. Despite the best efforts of the state utility regulators, access is not easy unless your facility is reasonably close to a telco office or you have cable access. And many cable providers (Yes Comcast, I'm talking about you) are completely and utterly incompetent. And God help you if your ISP is in the wrong part of the digital universe. And even where access is technically OK, it's often not cheap.

          I'm told that the situation is improving. But slowly.

    4. vtcodger Silver badge

      Ships in the night

      500 miles up. I'd have thought that a little atmospheric drag would have brought these birds down in the decades after they ran out of fuel.

      I reckon that they did start off a bit further out. My guess (unsupported by research or actual math) is that this is just a chance encounter on their way to eventual atmospheric incineration in a few more decades.

    5. Baldrickk Silver badge

      If that were 500 KM and not 500 Miles, you'd be right.

  7. AegisPrime
    Go

    Trouble with space rubbish? Sounds like a job for this lot: https://youtu.be/-mR-gz9EFO8

  8. not.known@this.address Bronze badge

    Cascading collisions?

    If two satellites do hit, I assume that debris must go somewhere - and there's a lot more stuff up there to get hit too. What if the first two give off enough shrapnel to result in an ever-expanding cloud of fast-moving bits'n'bobs as satellite after satellite is caught up in a cascading sequence of impacts? Not all those things are old and past their use-by date so how long until something vital gets taken out?

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Cascading collisions?

      This is of course the nightmare scenario and why the international community condemned the Chinese demonstration of their satellite hitting missile capacity. In worst case scenario we are trapped at the bottom of this gravity well for as long as the whizzing debris takes to deorbit and descend to fiery end.

      Just imagine how much tech and expertise we would lose. Vis the Apollo tech plans found in a NASA dumpster and all the Apollo engineers allowed to retire without training replacements and passing on their expertise.

      1. Baldrickk Silver badge

        Re: Cascading collisions?

        Indeed. The vast majority of space debris originates from just two incidents (a collision and a missile test) - Or is it three now, following the Chinese shooting down one of their satellites as well.

        The amount of debris from just a single incident is huge and would add up quickly. On average, only one tracked piece of debris falls out of orbit every day.

        That would give us best part of a decade to wait for the skies to clear, assuming that both we don't add to it, and that the rate of reduction remains constant (it won't)

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Cascading collisions?

      That's called the Kessler Syndrome, depicted by the 2013 movie Gravity, which I really enjoyed.

      Who knows ? Maybe tonight is when it will actually happen ?

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Cascading collisions?

        It was indeed a very enjoyable film, but their take on orbital mechanics was a bit out. That said, it'd still earn a 9.9/10 on the Hollywood Factual Accuracy scale.

        1. Benson's Cycle

          Re: Cascading collisions?

          Clever, on a scale that only goes from 0 to 0.1.

      2. David 132 Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Cascading collisions?

        No, if anything’s going to wipe out humanity, my money’s on the Helvetica Scenario. Terrifying.

        1. Jonathon Desmond

          Re: Cascading collisions?

          Helvética Scenario. Cool.

    3. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Cascading collisions?

      Given the enormous closing velocity, I'm not sure what happens to the satellites if they collide. There's presumably some transfer of energy, and orbits are surely altered. But I have no idea whether the objects break up or simply go wobbling off in a new direction with some portions converted to vapor.

      Maybe someone around here has some experience with the physics of REALLY high speed collisions between modestly macroscopic entities.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Cascading collisions?

        >But I have no idea whether the objects break up or simply go wobbling off in a new direction

        If you smack 2 lumps of metal into each other at 30,000 mph wobbling is optimistic.

        IRAS is fairly chunky and includes a pretty solid mirror so that is going to bug-splat the smaller satelite.

        There is going to be quite a lot of aluminium shrapnel generated but luckily neither of them would have much in the way of fuel left so there isn't an explosion as such. This means that not much of the debris will gain significant speed/energy and so end up in a higher orbit. The result is much less bad then blowing up a satelite with a warhead which boosts a bunch of the debris higher.

    4. The Eee 701 Paddock

      Re: Cascading collisions?

      The theoretical scenario you describe (a cascading chain-reaction of collisions and debris-creation) has worried more than a few people over the decades. As another poster has said, it is often referred to as "Kessler syndrome", after NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler, who proposed it way back in 1978.

  9. Hairy Spod

    actually there isnt really a lot of old stuff up there, but there is a lot of new stuff up there.

    Over the next year and a bit the amount of up stuff is pretty much doubling and its getting to the extent whereby its starting to affect measurements from ground based instruments

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    near miss

    "The latest calculations show that the pair will probably just miss each other by a distance of anywhere between 15 and 30 metres"

    Wow, that is a VERY near miss if a miss at all. Like, what, having a 1mm near miss between 2 cars !

  11. chris 251
    Happy

    lipstick on a pig

    i have it on good authority that both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are safe on earth so there is nothing to worry about

  12. John B Stone

    Expensive junk worth collecting

    With the astronomical (sorry) cost of putting metal in orbit, it would be useful to collect it so that you can recycle it up there, which should be cheaper than launching new bits. Presumably eventually some automated high-efficiency low-thrust drive craft will be put to use to do so. Though I guess the legality of ownership and salvage rights could be a nightmare.

    1. Dave 32
      Coat

      Re: Expensive junk worth collecting

      "Though I guess the legality of ownership and salvage rights could be a nightmare."

      Yo ho ho, matey. Arr.

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Expensive junk worth collecting

      it would be useful to collect it so that you can recycle it up there, which should be cheaper than launching new bits.

      That might work if what you've been sending up amounts to Meccano and electronic building blocks, so that a modest workshop like what you might fit in a Space Shuttle, could assemble a working satellite out of recycled, refurbished space scraps.

      Plus at some point you do need a human crew to deal with the bits that robots just can't. Also new fuel or RTGs and, for several projects, liquid helium.

      Never mind the Shuttle, what you actually need is a space-rated Proper Backyard Shed, with matching Proto-Boffin. Though what comes out might not be just another satellite.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Expensive junk worth collecting

      Problem is, most of the metal exists to get the important stuff (transmitters, receivers, scientific payloads, etc.) up there. I doubt there'd be much use for anything recycled. The closest comparason is in orbit refueling or repairs.

  13. Mike 137 Bronze badge

    "Move along - there's nothing to see here"

    "Defunct" and "old" - hardly world shaking news then.

    It's getting so crowded up there (not really very far from terra firma, but still "space") that things are probably bumping into each other all the time - mostly tiny fragments of other things that broke up when they bumped into yet other things a while back.

    One day soon the pollution problem "up there" will be as bad as that down here,but it's not a new problem. I remember a conversation with Heinz Wolff in the mid-80s when he said "what we need is a vacuum cleaner - something to clean up the vaccum out there."

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: "Move along - there's nothing to see here"

      Things aren't bumping into each other all the time - we try and avoid it.

  14. AndyFl
    Mushroom

    Like a Windows file copy dialog

    1 in 10,

    1 in 100,

    1 on 20,

    Done (or should that be collided?)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Splatellite

    Film at 11!

  16. the Jim bloke Silver badge
    Pint

    I am not <s>an orbital</s>any kind of scientist

    "Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.

    HHGTTG

    Rocketry is just using an explosion to move something, the science part is controlling the result. Orbital mechanics is understanding what happens when you get there.

    Even orbital space is a bit bigger than your shopping mall car park, throwing some really dodgy numbers pulled straight from google (6371 km for earth radius - doesnt even mention flattening etc, 804 km for altitude, for r = 7175 km) we get a sphere with a surface area of 6.47 x 10^8 square kilometres - so even if you convert all of Wales to a parking lot, it is still over 31 kiloWales.

    Thats just one level or altitude band, or whatever the technical name might be.

    So there is plenty of space up there (sometimes I'm just so funny I cant believe it myself) but how much room does each satellite need, and how many are there?

    To be at an orbital altitude you need to be travelling at the orbital speed (ignoring eccentric orbits for the sake of simplicity), so everything at the same level should be travelling at the same speed, like traffic on a highway. Would be nice if they were all travelling the same direction, as well...

    Since they dont, each satellite pretty much requires its entire orbital path to itself, again using numbers that have no basis, we will call the orbital path a cylinder 100m high with radius 7175 km, we get 2254 square km, or 108 milliiWales

    Continuing the theme of broad baseless assumptions and ignoring inconvenient details, we should be able to fit over 300 000 satellites into the 500 mile altitude band alone, although intersections would be constant and actual collisions a regular occurrence.

    This is just idle musing and I really should start doing some work.

    icon for the beer coaster I should have been doing the calculations on.

  17. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Faces of Death

    The mondo-porn website Live Leaks published CCTV footage of a guy jumping in front of a high speed train, I think in a Moscow underground station. Very successful suicide attempt from his point of view. I suppose the guy expected to be splattered harmlessly. What actually happened is his corpse bounced off the train and took out two other people waiting on the platform at roughly the same speed the train was going. Accidental homicide by suicide - and that's not even the worst thing I've seen on that website.

    I'm a big believer in assisted suicide and companies like Dignitas because people are so awful at it. Suicide should be illegal for anyone that doesn't have a qualification in chemistry, physics or biology. At least put up signs at train stations, "If you are going to jump in front of a train, please do it at the end of the platform not at the start."

  18. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    Why the heck don't they deploy these damn things with solar sails for this sort of eventuality?

  19. sdjones2001
    WTF?

    Paper Eagle

    Has anyone else noticed that the US Space Command logo in their 'nothing happened' Tweet illustrates a Bald Eagle clasping a paper aeroplane? Somewhat bemusing.

  20. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Infinitesimal

    I was assured by a Top Boffin of the Reg commentariat that the chances of such an event are "infinitesimal". So apparently 0.5 is infinitesimal now.

    Of course, in the present moment it's hardly a surprise that we have the biggest infinitesimal ever. The best infinitesimal. Probably Mexico paid for it.

  21. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    Space Farce,...

    sorry 'Space Command' Tweeted about this, and got the name of one of the Satellites wrong, calling IRAS 'IRSA'. That Tweet was then taken verbatim by many news organisations, including the BBC, who reproduced the error. Now, I don't think the laissez faire C&P 'journalism' is confined to science, I just spot the errors when it's a science subject 'cos I'm a geek, and wonder how many falsehoods are lazily repeated without fact checking on other subjects, finance, law, that I'm not so well versed in. It's sad that nobody fact checks anymore, and will pretty much retweet any old crap, and never look back, correct, or apologise.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pffff...

    Geordi could re-modulate a subspace dilithium field to protect that satellite from an impact.

    He just needs two hours, and he needs to reroute the shields via the warp drive conduit on deck 7.

    He may have to modify his phaser to output a phase shifted graviton pulse though. It'll be tricky, but he's on it.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020