CAPE CANAVERAL — Two communications satellites have collided in the first crash of two intact spacecraft in orbit, NASA said Wednesday.
The collision occurred Tuesday nearly 500 miles over Siberia. The crash produced a pair of massive debris clouds, and the magnitude of the situation won't be known for weeks at least, said NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries.
Any risk to the international space station, which orbits below the collision course, is thought to be low. There also should be no danger to the upcoming space shuttle flight, targeted for liftoff no earlier than Feb. 22, "but they're continuing to analyze any possible risk," Humphries said.
The collision involved an Iridium commercial satellite, which was launched in 1997, and a Russian satellite launched in 1993 and believed to be nonfunctioning. Each satellite weighed well over 1,000 pounds.
There have been four other cases in which space objects have collided accidentally in orbit, NASA said. Those were considered minor events and involved parts of spent rockets or small satellites.