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Collision avoidance to top agenda of upcoming int'l space conferences
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08:32, February 17, 2009

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Collision avoidance will top the agenda of two upcoming international space conferences after the recent collision between U.S. and Russian satellites, a U.S. scientist said on Monday.

"I guarantee you the collision is going to be the top topic at the meeting of UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Committee (COPUOS) and The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) meeting," said Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The U.S. and Russian satellites collided at 11:55 a.m. EST (1655 GMT) Tuesday in space nearly 800 km over Russia's Siberia, spewing a pair of massive debris clouds and igniting fears that the debris may threaten the international space station and other spacecraft.

Both the annual meeting of the COPUOS, to be held this week in Vienna, Austria and the IADC meeting in March in Germany, will focus on the recent collision and future measures to prevent such collision, said Matney.

The COPUOS meeting of policy-makers, lawyers and alike will work on policy issues and the IADC meeting of space scientists and engineers will bend on technical issues, according to Matney.

Scientists have been discussing the orbit debris issue and some suggested de-orbiting of spacecraft. The recent collision is a reminder that "we cannot wait too long and we must work on it now," he said.

Since the world's first satellite was launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union, thousands of satellite launches have taken place, meaning there are thousands of large objects in orbit around the earth.

"The space is getting crowded, there are more chances of collision," said Matney, noting Tuesday's collision will not be the last.

He estimated the debris from the collision could be in the thousands.

These debris will surely increase risks to other spacecraft, especially those adrift at the altitude of the collision. The risks to those orbiting higher and lower that altitude will be less, he said.

"The problem today is that we launch objects into space much faster than we remove them," he said.

Scientists are considering ways to reduce or remove debris, Matney said, noting education is important to make people be aware of the danger of orbit debris.

Citing as an example, Matney said when Russia and the United States first launched satellites, extra fuel was left on the spacecraft, and for unknown reasons, the fuel caused explosion of the spacecraft.

Most orbit debris came from explosions, he said.

The solution is simple. "When you finish your stage, get rid of the fuel, to drill the fuel into space or burn the engine to use up the fuel," Matney said.

"The point is there are simple things we can do to make space safer," he said.

The more difficult things are technical issues such as de-orbiting spacecraft after certain years of service.

Scientists also are considering the possibility of conducting space mission to remove debris in the long run, according to Matney.

"Someday in the future, we may move in the legal direction, like an international space law. But we are a long way from that," he said.

"What we are trying to do now is promoting good citizenship in space," Matney said.

"Space is a very useful place. We can do wonderful things in space. And it's an international resource but we need to make sure that our children and their children can use space like we can," he said.

Source: Xinhua

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