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Radar station tracks debris of satellites collision.

A BRITISH radar station was last night tracking the debris clouds formed by the collision of two large communications satellites - thought to be the first-ever crash between two intact orbiting spacecraft.

Operators at the state-of-theart tracking station at RAF Fylingdales, high on the North Yorkshire Moors, which happened nearly 500 miles over Siberian Russia, were attempting to assess the risk posed by the pieces of wreckage, including any danger to the manned International Space Station.

The Fylingdales base forms part of a worldwide network of powerful radars and tracks all object in orbit bigger than 10cm as well as providing early warning of any incoming ballistic missile attack.

Tuesday's collision involved an American Iridium commercial satellite, launched in 1997, and an old Russian satellite - Cosmos 2251, launched in 1993.

The 900kg Russian craft was defunct and the 500kg Iridium satellite was one of a network of 66 around the world used by satellite telephones.

According to Nasa scientist Mark Matney, the Russian satellite was out of control.

Mr Matney said no-one knew how many pieces of debris had been created.

He said: "Right now, they're definitely counting dozens. I would suspect that they'll be counting hundreds when the counting is done."

There have been four other cases in which space objects have collided accidentally in orbit, Nasa said. But those were considered minor and involved parts of spent rockets or small satellites.

Nasa believes any risk to the International Space Station and its three astronauts should be low as it orbits about 270 miles below the collision course.

There also should be no danger to the space shuttle set to launch with seven astronauts on February 22, officials said.

Dr Jill Stuart, from the London School of Economics, said the collision threw up interesting questions for "outer space lawyers" who will now have to sort out how who is financially liable for the collision.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 13, 2009
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