Kessler Time.

"Today, we were notified by USAF that there is a 5.6% chance that Genesis II will collide with dead Russian satellite Cosmos 1300 in 15 hours."

Genesis II is an experimental habitat that went into space in 2007. It was effectively retired in 2011 following the failure of its maneuvering system, which actually lasted two years longer than it was supposed to, a Bigelow spokeswoman told Gizmodo by phone today. Genesis II remains in orbit but is no longer collecting data. [...] The defunct Kosmos 1300 surveillance satellite, built and operated by the former Soviet Union, dates back to 1981.

The Genesis II spacecraft is scheduled to de-orbit at some point in the 2020s, so its destruction would be no major loss. The larger concern is that a collision would produce copious amounts of space debris, which would in turn increase the chances of further collisions, in a never-ending cascade of orbital destruction. [...]

At odds approaching 6 percent, a collision is unlikely but still uncomfortably possible.

Now I'm no mathematician but that sounds like ONE IN TWENTY to me. Or as John Rogers put it:

"Hey I'm just gonna toss the possibility of a Kessler Cascade on the table and fuck off right out of here, no big deal" is a choice.

"There's a slight but nonzero chance GPS and cellphones and weather and military satellites all go away by the end of the week" is very 2019.

Update: Maybe next time! BigelowSpace: "Per the Air Force, there was no collision between Genesis II and Cosmos 1300. Pass at 200m distance at 17000km/h"

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12 Responses:

  1. Ben says:

    GPS is in medium orbit, it's unlikely debris from this will make it up that high. Cellphones don't use satellites for data or calls.

    The big thing at risk is the International Space Station.

    • Jim says:

      Mothball the Webb and make whomever is responsible for it's lack of a deployment simulation write "I will not use a robot arm to write this" 100 times.

    • Karellen says:

      The thing about a Kessler cascade is that debris from this impact doesn't have to make it that high. Debris from this impact hits a couple of satellites in slightly higher orbits, leading to debris from those impacts hitting half a dozen satellites in slightly higher orbits still, leading to debris from those impacts hitting a couple of dozen other satellites.... you get the idea.

      And it all happening in a week sounds like a very aggressive timescale to me - I'd expect the effects to play out over a couple of months.

      But, generally, yeah. It seems like the appropriate kind of cherry to stick on the crowning end of the twenty-teens shit sundae.

      • Nick Lamb says:

        Because these are spheroids we're talking about the stats work the opposite way from how you've implied. Lots of collisions in Low orbit leads to a few in Medium orbit which leads to none in higher orbits.

        As with people's misapprehension about the Garbage Patch (it's not an actual Island of plastic garbage you can see) the sheer scale of a cascade defeats human intuition. Low orbits would be "full" of debris only the same way our oceans are "full" of plastic. You could, for example, definitely still go to the moon if you wanted to, your chance of smacking into debris from the cascade would be negligible even though there was too much debris to make new LEO satellites worth launching.

  2. Jim says:

    The new stuff we build after The Cleansing Apocalypse is going to be cool.

  3. apm74 says:

    no big whoop, everyone is going to die of weaponized smallpox anyhow.

  4. ctag says:

    Wait, you're saying that movie "Gravity" was actually realistic?!

    • MattyJ says:

      I'm not into self-promotion but I had to research a podcast on Gravity one time, and the very deep click hole I fell into made me conclude that yes, a lot of the base science in Gravity was pretty realistic.

      There was certainly some (a lot of) artistic license in what things are orbiting the Earth at what heights, but there have been at least two incidences of poorly-tracked satellites colliding with other things up there (including another satellite) and making a huge mess of it all. Imagine a satellite exploding into hundreds of tiny pieces, thrust out in all directions. A 1cm piece of that traveling at sufficient speed could ruin your day.

      Over the decades, reporting of space-junk (defunct satellites and such) has largely been self-reported, and thusly somewhat fluid as far as accuracy is concerned. You might think a resolution of, oh, say 200m is good enough when you're talking about space, but that these things passed at that distance is what a layman like myself might consider 'terrifyingly close', if I had been in a spaceship waiting for some other debris to pass by or kill me.

      The ISS had to perform an 'avoidance maneuver' two years after two satellites collided: boom. I realize that's talking about debris decaying toward Earth, but in a collision like that a certain amount of it goes up (for a time), too.

      • ctag says:

        Well dang. Thank you for informing me.

        The debris field shown for that satellite collision is impressive.

  5. David Hoover says:

    One in twenty?

    Pshaw, nobody's ever rolled a critical hit in D&D.

    • Elusis says:

      There's some kind of geek-themed pub that opened last November in Toronto, right when I was there presenting an Ally Skills Workshop. Naturally my long-time geek friends and I had to go. They have a roll-a-shot menu. Guess who rolled a critical miss?

  6. Waider says:

    In referencing this I discovered that the biggest risk in space junk collisions is, ironically, a defunct environmental studies satellite.

    (Left there by the ESA. Sorry.)

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