What are the Chances?


You might have heard about the recent space collision… the one where two satellites crashed, creating “hundreds if not thousands of pieces of tracked debris”.[1] One satellite was a functional communications satellite in an orbital flock of 65. The other, was a defunct satellite launched in 1993 by Russia. The combined result of the collision is debris in excess of three thousand pounds.

What happens with this space junk? The pieces that stay in orbit, will pick up considerable force, and pose a threat to other satellites. According to cnn.com, a 1/10 inch piece of debris in Earth’s orbit will have the comparable force of a bowling ball traveling at 60 mph. Given the increase in space traffic , how likely is it that similar collisions will occur on a more regular basis?

Here are some quick facts:

  • Our highest-flying satellites hang in space at about 22,000 miles (1/10th the distance to the moon)
  • The lowest-flying satellites hang in space at about 100 miles (also known as a Low Earth Orbit -LEO)
  • The accepted formula used to find the volume of a sphere is:


  • There are currently at least 17,000 objects measuring 4 in. or greater circling the Earth
    • 200,000 objects in the 1-in.-to-3-in. range
    • tens of millions smaller than an inch

Given this information, what do you think the chances are of another collision happening within the next year? When responding, please describe the steps you took to solve the problem… we’re interested in learning from each other.

1. cnn.com http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1879241,00.html

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