Dodging debris

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NOAA's TIROS-N polar orbiting satellites may encounter space debris 517 miles above the earth.

Call it orbital hopscotch.

Tuesday's collision of two communications satellites 490 miles above Siberia has created a new debris field that has space watchers worried about additional damage to other spacecraft. These birds aere in realtively low earth orbit. Large amounts of debris can now be tracked by military radar as they spin into higher and lower orbits. Some debris can move at very high speeds, and impact other satellites.

The International Space Station ISS orbits at around 215 miles above earth. Some debris could make it into the path of the ISS.

When it comes to weather satellites there is also some concern. There are basically two types of US weather satellites. The GOES satellites are in geosynchronous orbit at very high altitudes. They move with the rotation of the earth about 22,300 miles high. By moving with the earth as it spins, they can take multiple images of the same area and generate vivid animations of weather in motion. These are not likely to be affected by this debris cloud.

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But the TIROS-N polar orbiting satellites are a different story. These 5 space birds circle the poles about 517 miles up. They could be affected by a debris strike. These platforms contain advanced high resolution sensors that feed as many as 16,000 pieces of data each day into weather forecast models.

There is a lot of room out there in orbit, but there's also a lot of space junk. There are at least 7,000 pieces of man made debris big enough to be tracked by radar. It didn't help when the Chinese decided to send a rocket up a month ago and blow up one of their dead weather satellites.

Kind of makes you appreciate a quiet evening here on earth.

PH