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[Slashdot] - A Dead Soviet Satellite and An Old Rocket Booster Could Collide In Space Tonight

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Space traffic experts are tracking two pieces of orbital garbage that appear to be careening toward each other: A defunct Soviet satellite and a discarded Chinese rocket booster that are expected to nearly miss each other -- with a slight chance of colliding -- Thursday evening. CNN reports: No one knows for sure if the objects will collide, and near-misses happen in space all the time. But LeoLabs, a California-based startup that uses ground-based radars to track spaceborne objects, is putting the odds of collision at 10% or more. That's high, but not uncommon LeoLabs CEO Daniel Ceperley told CNN Business on Thursday. "Multiple times a week we're seeing dead satellites come within 100 meters of each other, moving at tremendous speeds," Ceperley said. The company decided to raise public awareness about this particular event, he said, because the two objects are both large -- and likely to create an enormous debris field if they collide -- and because they're in an area of orbit that's still relatively clean compared to nearby orbits. The company is also trying to raise more general public awareness about the debris problem, he said. The Soviet satellite, which launched to space in 1989 and was used for navigation, weighs nearly 2,000 pounds and is 55 feet long, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. And the rocket booster, part of a Chinese Long March launch vehicle that likely launched in 2009, is about 20 feet long. Neither of the objects is still in use. If the rocket and satellite do collide, it would be the first time in more than a decade that two objects spontaneously collided in space -- a situation space traffic experts have hoped desperately to avoid.

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