Estonian Cubesat on a Collision Course with Iridium-Cosmos Debris

Image of ESTCube-1 operating its experiment (Credits: University of Tartu)

Image of ESTCube-1 operating its experiment (Credits: University of Tartu)

According to the United States Joint Space Operations Center (JSOC), ESTCube-1, the first Estonian satellite, is on a possible collision course with a space debris originated by the 2009 collision between Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251.

ESTCube-1 is a nanosatellite developed as part of the Estonian Student Satellite Program and launched in low-Earth orbit aboard Vega rocket, on May 7, 2013. The closest contact between the cubesat and the debris is expected on August 2 at 04.40 UTC over the coastline of Antarctica. JSOC has estimated that the two objects will pass at about 200 meters from each other. ESTCube-1’s fate will be revealed only at 07:07 UTC when the satellite is scheduled to communicate with the ground station in Estonia.

Even if the collision hade been predicted for sure, no preventative measures would be possible because ESTCube-1 is without propulsive capability.

Collisions between nanosatellites and space debris are not so uncommon. Another cubesat, Pegaso, suffered a collision with space junk, on May 23. Pegaso, which was the first Ecuadorian satellite, was most likely hit by small particles surrounding a Tsyklon rocket body. Before that, the Russian retroreflector nanosatellite BLITS collided with a piece of Chinese anti-satellite test debris from Fengyun 1C, on January 22, 2013

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Matteo Emanuelli

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Matteo Emanuelli is Feature Editor of Space Safety Magazine. He is a young professional from Italy but living in France where he works as engineer and project manager at Université de Picardie. He is member of the Space Generation Advisory Council where he is Co-Lead of the Space Safety Sustainability Project Group. Matteo also worked on a space debris removal mission at the Omsk State Technical University in Russia while he was enrolled at Politecnico di Milano.

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