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NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP Satellite team ward off recent space debris threat

NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP Satellite team ward off recent space debris threat

Artist's concept of the Suomi NPP satellite in space. Credit: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio/Ryan Zuber
Artist's concept of the Suomi NPP satellite in space. Credit: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio/Ryan Zuber

While space debris was the uncontrolled adversary in the award-winning space thriller film "Gravity," space debris, also known as "space junk," is an ongoing real-life concern for teams managing satellites orbiting Earth, including NOAA-NASA's Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership, or Suomi NPP, satellite. It is not unusual for satellites that have the capability of maneuvering to be repositioned to avoid debris or to maintain the proper orbit.

On an otherwise quiet Sunday on September 28, the Suomi NPP mission team was monitoring a possible close approach of a debris object. By early evening, the risk was assessed to be high enough to start planning a spacecraft maneuver to put the satellite into a safer zone, out of the path of the object classified in a size range of 4 inches up to 3.3 feet.

It was determined that the object (traveling at almost 17,000 mph) was approaching at a nearly "head on" angle, and could potentially only miss the Suomi NPP satellite by approximately 300 feet on Tuesday, September 30, if no action was taken. With that knowledge, the decision was made at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, September 29, for NOAA's Satellite Operations Facility, or NSOF, in Suitland, Maryland, to reposition Suomi NPP. Operational control as well as planning and execution of all Suomi NPP maneuvers take place at NSOF.

 

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October 22, 2014


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