NASA Watched 'Helplessly' as 2 Satellites Got Perilously Close

Space agency's TIMED spacecraft, defunct Russian satellite came within 65 feet of each other last week
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 4, 2024 10:35 AM CST
NASA Watched 'Helplessly' as 2 Satellites Got Perilously Close
An artist's rendering of a communications satellite above Earth.   (Getty Images/Spectral-Design)

Last week, a NASA satellite "almost got clobbered high above Earth." That's the scoop from, which reports on a near collision last Wednesday between the space agency's Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) research spacecraft, which has been in space studying data since 2001, and Russia's dead Cosmos 2221 satellite, launched by that country's Defense Ministry in 1992. "Too close for comfort," noted satellite monitoring company LeoLabs of the near miss.

  • Close call: LeoLabs says that the two satellites, which Quartz notes are traveling at a speed of more than 17,500mph, came within 65 feet of each other. Neither satellite is able to be maneuvered, leaving observers on Earth "with no choice but to watch helplessly, without the ability to intervene" as the satellites neared each other, per the outlet.

  • Warnings: NASA had been keeping tabs on the satellites before the incident, per Reuters. The space agency had noted last week that a collision "could result in significant debris generation." LeoLabs estimated a hit could have set loose into space between 2,000 to 7,000 fragments.
  • Not the first time: Satellites have crashed into each other only one other time—in 2009, when US communications satellite Iridium 33 smashed into Russia's Kosmos-2251 military communications satellite, destroying both.
  • Future repeat? "While the two non-maneuverable satellites will approach each other again, this was their closest pass in the current predicted orbit determinations, as they are gradually moving apart in altitude," NASA noted in a blog post. The pair are currently orbiting about 375 miles above Earth.
(More satellite stories.)

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