Chinese satellite nearly hits Soviet debris in extremely dangerous encounter

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A Chinese satellite narrowly avoided an “extremely dangerous encounter” after coming just metres away from colliding with a piece of debris in space.

The China National Space Administration’s (CNSA’s) debris centre said the Tsinghua Science Satellite missed a piece of debris by 14.5 metres on Tuesday.

It is believed the piece of debris is from an old Soviet satellite blown up in an anti-missile test carried out by Russia in November last year, according to South China Morning Post.

Although the satellite avoided the potentially dangerous collision on this occasion, the CNSA’s debris centre believes there is still a high risk of an incident from debris in the future.

Liu Jing, a space debris expert and deputy director of the CNSA debris centre, told the Global Times: ““The two got a little closer with each orbit.

By the night of January 18, the two were at their closest. It was very risky and the probability of the two colliding was very high.”

Liu said that a miss between any spacecraft and debris is usually by kilometres but one by just a few metres is described as being a “very rare” incident.

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He added: “If there is any debris approaching, our satellites need to be notified quickly and do some manoeuvres in advance to avoid it, which is the most practical approach at the moment.”

The debris is thought to have come from the destruction of a defunct Soviet intelligence satellite that had been launched in 1982.

The CNSA’s debris centre said they believe Russia launched a S-500 Prometey missile on November 15 to destroy the satellite, leaving an estimated 1,500 pieces of debris in orbit.

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US space agency NASA has spoken of concerns over debris in space and believes it could potentially endanger crew on the International Space Station (ISS).

In November last year, NASA had to postpone a spacewalk due to the threat of nearby debris.

As reported by Space.com, NASA's director of the ISS Robyn Gatens said raised a concern over debris during a meeting on Tuesday and referenced Russia's anti-satellite test.

She said the anti-satellite test "has increased our background debris by about two times compared to prior to this event."

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