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Investigation of satellite collision needs days or longer: U.S. spokesman
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08:30, February 13, 2009

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The U.S. State Department is in touch with the Russian government on the investigation of a collision in space between a U.S. commercial satellite and a Russian one, which could take days or longer, the U.S. State Department spokesman Rob McInturff told Xinhua on Thursday.

The U.S. government can not confirm the cause of the collision that happened on Tuesday, whether it was an accident or whether itwas preventable, and what can be confirmed is the collision happened between an active U.S. commercial satellite and an inactive Russian satellite, McInturff said.

He said other governments and commercial companies who have satellites in space can track the debris from the incident and assess the threat to their assets on the Internet at www.spacetrack.org, a public website managed by the U.S. Defense Department.

McInturff said space experts at the State Department believe there is a very low risk for the debris to fall into Earth, since it will burn up going through the Earth's atmosphere. There is also little chance that the debris could threaten the International Space Station.

However, he mentioned that experts did comment that the space is getting "increasingly congested." Currently there is no known technology that can collect inactive satellites or debris. All parties who have interest in space have to work on prevention.

McInturff said during the course of the investigation there could be meetings between U.S. and Russian experts in the future. But whether a meeting would convene, if it does whether it would concentrate on just this one incident or on a broader issue of satellite operation safety, or whether other governments could be invited, are all questions he can not answer.

He said the State Department has not contacted other governments including China who have assets in space other than Russia. During the investigation the State Department's role is to communicate with related parties, while the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) take the lead on the technical aspects.

One satellite owned by Iridium Satellite LLC, which operates a constellation of 66 low Earth orbiting ones that provide mobile voice and data communications globally, collided with a defunct Russian satellite at nearly 790 km over Siberia on Tuesday. The 560-kg Iridium 33 satellite was launched in 1997, while the 900-kgRussian satellite was launched in 1993.

Source: Xinhua

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