A new space incident illustrates the growing problem of space trash, a spokesperson for the U.S. military announced this week that a defunct Russian satellite has collided with a communications satellite from Iridium Satellite.
This is the first incident of its kind, and experts report the collision added up to 600 new pieces of debris to the more than 17,000 human-made objects larger than 10 centimeters that are orbiting Earth.
"This is the first, unfortunately," NASA chief scientist for orbital debris Nicholas Johnson said. "Nothing to this extent" has taken place in the past. "We've had three other accidental collisions between what we call catalog objects, but they were all much smaller than this."
A satellite privately owned by Iridium Satellite and the de-commissioned Russian satellite impacted with one another in low-Earth orbit, causing hundreds of smaller pieces of debris. The U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Space Operations Center is now tracking between 500 and 600 pieces of debris, with pieces just 3.9 inches in diameter.
The company issued a statement announcing it "lost an operational satellite" sometime on Tuesday, after it impacted "a nonoperational" Russian satellite. The satellite destruction will have little to no impact on the company's day-to-day operations, and is now "taking immediate action to address the loss."
Collissions with space junk are rare but very dangerous, even an object the size of a pebble could have catastrophic effects if it hit a manned spacecraft like the ISS.