04:17 GMT27 October 2020
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    An old Chinese rocket stage launched over 20 years ago and a defunct military satellite made in the USSR are about to pass within 12 metres (40 feet) of each other on October 16, according to space debris tracking service LeoLabs data.

    The probability of a possible collision between the two satellites exceeds 10 percent at an altitude of 991 kilometers (616 miles) above the Weddell sea near the Antarctic Peninsula. 

    ​"This is probably one of the potentially worst accidental collisions that we've seen for a while," said space archaeologist Alice Gorman of Flinders University in Australia, according to ScienceAlert.

    The Chinese rocket stage, which was part of a Long March 4B rocket launched on 10 May 1999, safely transported its payload, while the Soviet satellite called “Parus”, launched on 22 February 1989, was used by the military for communication and navigation.

    ​The objects are travelling in opposite directions with a relative velocity of about 14.7 kilometres per second and the total mass estimated at approximately 2,800 kilograms (6,170 pounds).

    The chance of collision is complicated by the shape of the spacecraft since the Parus satellite has a 17-metre (56-foot) boom that could close the projected gap between the objects. 

    "We're not yet in a position where we can actively remove any debris like this. So it'll be up there for a while. And because of the altitude of about 1,000 kilometres, this stuff isn't going to reenter within a matter of weeks or months. Some of it is likely to be up there for quite some time," Gorman added. 

    ​However, there is no risk for us here on Earth, even if a potential collision occurs. The concern is that these two objects will create a rain of small debris. It will burn up on re-entry, but is more likely to hover in low earth orbit, posing a danger to other objects above.

    "My feeling about this is probably it's not going to happen, just to be optimistic. But we'll have to wait," Gorman told ScienceAlert. "Let's keep our fingers crossed."

    Although the worst-case scenario, according to LeoLabs' probability calculations, is not likely to happen, it's only a matter of time before another collision in near-Earth space could occur. A similar situation occurred at the beginning of the year when observers feared a collision of two long-dead space objects that were planned to pass at a distance of 15 to 30 meters from each other with a one-in-100 chance of collision, but eventually sailed harmlessly past each other. 

    Later, LeoLabs said on Twitter that there was "no indication of collision".

    collision, satellite, Russia, China, Space
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