Satellite Debris May Force NASA to Scrub Shuttle Launch

The cloud of debris created by the collision of two satellites earlier this month may threaten an upcoming space shuttle Atlantis mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, according to a report in Nature News.

Without the repair and maintenance mission, currently scheduled for May, the Hubble telescope's days could be numbered.

Shuttle missions to the International Space Station, which orbits at an altitude of roughly 200 miles, would be far enough below the debris trails, at 500 miles up, to be considered safe.

But the Hubble telescope orbits at an altitude of 350 miles, meaning shuttle missions to it are much closer to the debris.

Even before the collision, NASA gave the Hubble repair mission a 1-in-185 chance of a catastrophic impact with space debris, thanks to a Chinese satellite-destruction test in 2007.

That's slightly more than NASA's usual risk limit of 1 in 200.

A NASA spokeswoman would not comment to Wired News on whether the space agency had decided whether the satellite collision elevated the risk to the shuttle mission.

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