Two hunks of space junk could collide Thursday

Two hunks of space junk could collide

There are millions of pieces of space junk orbiting just above Earth, including a Russian navigation satellite and remnants of a Chinese rocket that are set to collide Thursday.

The two pieces of space junk weigh 6,170 pounds and are speeding toward each other at 32,900 mph, according to Space.com. The encounter, which has a 10% probability of collision, is expected to occur at 8:56 p.m., 616 miles above the South Atlantic Ocean near the coast of Antarctica.

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“This event continues to be very high risk and will likely stay this way through the time of closest approach,” LeoLabs, a research company that tracks space debris, said on social media. The group will monitor if a collision does occur.

Space debris is a growing problem.

The majority of the debris travels within 1,250 miles of the Earth’s surface. Low Earth orbit is considered a space junkyard, littered with 6,000 tons of materials, including pieces of spacecraft, rockets and broken satellites, according to NASA. At high speeds, even debris like tiny flecks of paint can cause considerable damage to spacecraft.

The deliberate destruction of a Chinese space craft in 2007 and the accidental collision of U.S. and Russian spacecraft in 2009 increased the amount of debris in low Earth orbit by 70%.

“The problem of managing space debris is both an international challenge and an opportunity to preserve the space environment for future space exploration missions,” NASA said.

Space junk in geosynchronous orbit, which also includes natural debris like meteoroids, is also a concern.

The International Space Station has had to maneuver to avoid potential collisions with space junk three times this year, Space.com reported. The space station has conducted debris avoidance maneuvers 26 times since 1999, according to NASA.