Iridium Recovers From Orbital Collision

By Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

Iridium has completed its recovery from last month's orbital collision that destroyed a spacecraft in the 66-satellite low-Earth orbit constellation, and is calling for more vigorous efforts by the space community to provide warning of such events.

The Feb. 10 collision with the 16-year-old Russian Cosmos 2251 satellite created about 700 pieces of orbital debris (Aerospace DAILY, Feb. 12, 13). Iridium completed the replacement of the lost satellite with an on-orbit spare on March 4, the company said March 9.

Iridium said that while it has been "engaged for some time" with the U.S. government in efforts to improve warning of orbital collisions, "this incident has demonstrated the need for even more aggressive action, and the company supports enhanced actions to increase the margin of safety for space operations."

The company recommends "long-term investments" to improve space situational awareness (SSA), and adding SSA sensors to government and commercial satellites launched for other purposes.

Iridium also is calling for improved information sharing between industry and the U.S. government to improve warning of "conjunctions" - when one satellite may strike another. "Iridium believes provision of satellite orbital data by commercial operators would relieve the U.S. Air Force of the necessity to devote resources to tracking the company's satellites, and could provide greater accuracy than would otherwise be commonly available."

Although U.S. Strategic Command makes its orbital tracking data available and does field specific data requests from satellite operators, the request process is time-consuming. Iridium is in discussions with U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) about providing data on their fleet "in return for better conjunction warnings that can be considered and assessed over an appropriate period of time."

The company also recommends the government fund and support policies and processes for allowing the sharing of classified data, if required for more accurate assessments and warnings.

Artist's concept of Iridium satellite: Iridium Satellite LLC

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