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Blame gaming over space crash

UNITED States and Russian officials have traded shots over who was to blame for a huge satellite collision this week that spewed speeding clouds of debris into space, threatening other unmanned spacecraft in nearby orbits.

The smashup 800 kilometers over Siberia on Wednesday involved a derelict Russian spacecraft designed for military communications and a working satellite owned by US-based Iridium, which served commercial customers as well as the US Department of Defense.

A prominent Russian space expert suggested the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration fell down on the job by not warning of the collision.

But US space experts said the Russian has the wrong agency.

The US military tracks the 18,000 objects that are in orbit, but it monitors only some of the threats because it lacks the resources to do everything, said Major Regina Winchester, spokeswoman for the US Strategic Command, which oversees the military's Space Surveillance Network.

Iridium spokeswoman Elizabeth Mailander said the company can move any of its 65 satellites out of the way if it gets a precise warning ahead of a crash. Such a warning was not made Wednesday, Mailander said.

But the company has never redirected a satellite before because the warnings they get aren't precise enough and there are just too many satellites to be constantly adjusting their orbit, she said.

"Ours was where it was supposed to be, and it was functioning," Mailander said. She said Iridium hasn't talked with Russian space officials.

No one has any idea yet how many pieces of space junk were generated by the collision or how big they might be. But the crash scattered space junk in orbits 500 to 1,300 kilometers above Earth, according to Major-General Alexander Yakushin, chief of staff for the Russian military's Space Forces.

Experts in space debris will meet next week in Vienna, Austria, at a United Nations seminar to come up with better ways to prevent future crashes, said NASA orbital debris program manager Nicholas Johnson.


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