February 01, 2003
Weather Radar Track Of Columbia Shuttle Debris

Blogger John Moore has posted a link to a weather radar track of the shuttle debris.

I hope this tragic loss causes a reassessment of the shuttle program. Its a lousy old tech design that was a poor choice to begin with. We need a radically newer human launch vehicle design that is inherently much safer and lower maintenance.

Here's a Google News news article cluster on the loss of the Columbia. Here are two more here and here.

Update: A friend points out that the Shuttle could have been damaged in orbit by collision with a small fragment of space debris. Space debris is a growing problem. Tethers that ride magnetic fields to slowly change orbits have been proposed as a way to clean up space debris. But one has to ask: Even if such a system was launched can really small orbiting fragments be identified in the first place? Surely larger sized pieces can be tracked. But can the smallest fragment that can cause lethal damage to a shuttle be identified with radar or opticals sensor systems? I'm guessing that the answer is no. Anyone know?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 February 01 10:44 AM  Space Exploration

Jay Manifold said at February 6, 2003 11:04 AM:

GREAT question. Assuming it to be 1 cm in diameter, probably not; the radar wavelength would have to be several times smaller, with frequency therefore on the order of 100 GHz, which is off the high end of the scale ( source">http://www.aewa.org/Library/rf_bands.html">source).

Since most orbital debris has albedo ~0.1 (source [warning: 1.4MB *.pdf]), a 1-cm object 300 km directly overhead ~1 hr after sunset or before sunrise would shine at magnitude +15 at best, while moving across the sky at 1.5 per second. Challenging.

See also "Meteoroid and Orbital Debris Threat to Shuttle?" for more info.

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