Bethesda (MD) – Satellite phone provider Iridium today said that it has successfully replaced one of its satellites that three weeks ago was lost in a collision with a non-operational Russian satellite. One of the company’s spares took the place of the destroyed unit and closed the gap.
The designers of the Iridium network may not have imagined that space junk may destroy one of their satellites one day, but they have foreseen that having extra satellites – just in case – is a good idea. The entire network consists of 66 operational satellites and six spares. One of those spares is now in the place of the destroyed unit.
Iridium claims that “the continuity of service to Iridium’s customers” was maintained while the spare was moved into the constellation.
“I am particularly proud of the Iridium and Boeing teams that manage our constellation,” said Matt Desch, chairman and chief executive officer, Iridium. “They moved quickly, efficiently and effectively to limit the minor service degradation caused by the collision and to return our constellation to its full configuration.”
The recent collision between the inactive Russian Cosmos 2251 and a commercial low-earth orbiting (LEO) Iridium satellite in an altitude of 485 miles and a combined speed of more than 30,000 mph added a substantial amount of debris to orbit. It is estimated that the collision resulted in hundreds of pieces of junk: More than 500 pieces from the Cosmos satellite and 194 pieces from the Iridium satellite are currently being tracked in two separate debris clouds. AP today reported that the debris could remain for 10,000 years in the low-earth orbiting range, a popular space for satellites.
There are currently 905 operational satellites in orbit, 443 of which belong to the U.S. government or companies. There are almost 6000 non-operational satellites plus another 10,000 to 11,000 pieces of debris that can be tracked (down to a size of 2 inches). It is estimated there are another 15,000 to 20,000 pieces of junk that is smaller to be able to be track in orbit at this time.