'Less than 10% Chance' Estonia's First Satellite Will Be Destroyed

The first image of Earth from Estonia's satellite. Photo: University of Tartu
8/1/2013 12:58 PM
Category: Sci-Tech

A collision with space junk could end Estonia's student satellite mission Friday morning, the US Joint Space Operations Center has said.

A cloud of old satellite debris is in the way of ESTCube-1, which was launched on May 7 and is currently orbiting the Earth at 7.5 km per second, ERR radio reported. ESTCube-1 team leader Mart Noorma said the warning from the Americans is a serious one.

"Tomorrow at 7:40 on August 2, the trajectory of ESTCube-1 will intersect [...] a cloud of space junk that formed four years ago as a consequence of the collision of the Iridium communication satellite and the Russian military communication satellite Strela-2M," Noorma said on Thursday.

He said that "not much" would be left of the nano satellite, which measures just 10 centimeters to a side. "Although both objects are small and light, their speed is immense - [...] 2,700 kph. Square that number and you get an idea of the force of the impact that will result," said Noorma.

Such an impact would have a force equivalent to 14,000 bullets hitting a target simultaneously.

Estonia would not be the first to have its maiden satellite destroyed by collision with orbiting junk. Ecuador, which made it to space a few weeks before Estonia, lost its nano satellite, the Pegaso, on May 23.

Noorma pegged the chance of a collision at under 10 percent. The first chance for the team to check whether the satellite survived will be at 10:07 on Friday when ESTCube-1 passes over Estonia.


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