It is said: What goes up, must one day come down.
Satellites launched some forty years ago into space, having outlived their utility, are now dropping out of the sky onto Earth in fiery fragments of molten metal.
There are thousands of satellites in various orbital stages around our planet — some dead, some dying — that are heading home like the proverbial lemmings to die.
Unlike their meticulously charted and programmed fiery birth, when every move of theirs was tracked by an army of ground control engineers in Siberia, Houston and Cape Canaveral, no one bothered to figure out what would happen to them once their original missions were completed. There being no planned cemeteries in the sky, that “final frontier” called Space is becoming one giant, floating, dangerous junkyard.
Until some ten years ago, such sightings would have every sky watcher declare that what they witnessed in the night sky, “this brightly lit object with a flaming tail, streaking across the sky over the golf course, was a ‘UFO’”. Unfortunately no alien visitors have created or caused the recent sighting, which is the result of the handiwork of our own Space Cowboys.
I remember reading a report sometime in 2007, that former US President George Bush had ordered the destruction of an errant satellite that was like the current American economy — in a freefall to Earth. The exercise was carried out successfully, unlike some other missile strikes being carried out against the Taliban in the hills and hamlets of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That strike scattered deadly debris across the orbits of myriad other satellites, and some of it fell to Earth as metallic rain.
Last week, for the first time, a “live” and active US commercial Iridium satellite collided with a derelict and inactive Russian Cosmos 2251 satellite in low Earth orbit. The massive collision between the Iridium craft, weighing 1235 pounds (approximately 560kg) and the 1-ton Russian military craft crashed at orbital speeds, sending hypersonic shockwaves and detonating any fuel on board.
Major General Alexander Yakushin, chief of staff of Russia’s Military Space Forces, said: “Some debris was thrown into other orbits ranging from 300 to 800 miles above Earth.” NASA Veteran James Oberg described the crash over northern Siberia as a “catastrophic event”.
In the absence of a space traffic control system, experts say that “given the amount of spacecraft and debris in orbit, the probability of similar collisions is on the increase and remains a clear and present danger to all spacecraft and even aircraft.”
Meanwhile, back here on Earth, the “unthinkable” has happened. Two nuclear-powered “fish” have collided in the Atlantic. The British nuclear submarine, the HMS Vanguard, and its counterpart, the French Navy’s nuclear submarine Le Triomphant, collided, miraculously reporting no casualties other than some bruised egos and a scathed hull.
Given that both are state-of-the art vessels, equipped with the most sophisticated communication gear including sonar, it seems incomprehensible how these two nuclear-powered subs, bristling with ballistic missiles, could “run into each other” unless, in true Anglo-French naval tradition, they were playing chicken.
The HMS Vanguard, with a crew of 135, is one of Britain’s four V-class subs under the Trident Programme. It has now been towed to a nuclear submarine base in Scotland, where it will be laid up for repairs.
Le Triomphant seems to have slunk back to its base in Breton, with nothing more than a bloody nose it would appear. Its “fibreglass sonar dome which protrudes from the bow of the vessel took a blow and would take three to four months to repair.”
Le Triomphant, like her British counterpart, is one of four nuclear armed and powered submarines and is considered France’s main nautical strike flag sub.
The potential fallout from a collision of two nuclear-powered vessels is too horrendous to even contemplate. That this time around both vessels and their crews somehow were spared the catastrophic consequences that normally accompany an accident at sea and lived to tell the tale is Neptune’s ping to other captains who have the con to maintain a safe distance when running silent and submerged in his watery realm.
Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reproduced by permission of the author and Daily Times