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Warning about long-term legacy of satellite junk

THE crash of two satellites may have generated tens of thousands of pieces of space junk that could circle Earth and threaten other satellites for the next 10,000 years, space experts said.

Russian Mission Control Chief Vladimir Solovyov said Tuesday's crash of a derelict Russian military satellite and a working US Iridium commercial satellite occurred in the busiest part of near-Earth space - some 800 kilometers above Earth.

"(It) is a very popular orbit which is used by Earth-tracking and communications satellites," Solovyov said. "The clouds of debris pose a serious danger to them."

Solovyov said debris from the collision could stay in orbit for up to 10,000 years and even tiny fragments threaten spacecraft because both travel at such high speeds.

Most fragments are concentrated near the collision course, but Major-General Alexander Yakushin, chief of staff of the Russian military's Space Forces, said some debris was thrown into other orbits, ranging from 500 kilometers to 1,300 kilometers above Earth.

David Wright, at the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security, said the collision had possibly generated tens of thousands of particles larger than one centimeter, any of which could significantly damage or even destroy a satellite.

Wright, in a posting on the group's Website, said the two large debris clouds will spread over time, forming a shell around Earth. He likened the debris to "a shotgun blast that threatens other satellites in the region."


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