Debris from Russia’s missile test nearly hit a Chinese satellite

A debris created by Russia’s recent anti-satellite test flew within an impressive distance of a Chinese satellite on Tuesday, in an encounter the Chinese government called an “extremely hazardous”.

According to the China National Space Administration’s Space Debris Monitoring and Applications Center, the Russian debris came close to 14.5 meters (about 48 feet) from the satellite.

If a collision were to happen, it could cause a “supersonic shock wave,” said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who explains that “it came close enough that it could easily easy to bump into.”

“A piece that’s big enough to be tracked like this, it gets to 12,000 miles per hour, and you get a supersonic shock wave going through the satellite that turns it into shrapnel, into confetti, ” he said.

However, McDowell described China’s claim that the two objects came within such a specific distance as “nonsense because there’s no way they could have known it exactly”.

Based on publicly available US space tracking data, McDowell said the two objects could have come in anywhere from a few hundred yards to a few inches when they collided.

“The fact that it’s still there means it hasn’t been hit, but that’s the only way you’ll know that,” McDowell said.

Last November, Russia destroyed one of its own satellites in a direct-flying anti-satellite missile test that was denounced by the administration of US President Joe Biden as dangerous and irresponsible.

At the time, the US Space Command said the test had generated “more than 1,500 trackable orbital debris and will likely generate hundreds of thousands of smaller orbital debris.” “

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