Nasa’s timed satellite
FILE: Artist’s impression of Nasa’s timed satellite in orbit
Russian spacecraft: The close call had NASA officials tense. This was because of the potential danger posed by debris if the two crafts had collided. Such an eventuality could pose a threat to the astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS).

An American satellite, in a recent space scare, narrowly escaped destruction after a close encounter with a Russian spacecraft. Though the incident took place on February 28, officials only recently learned that the spacecraft came within a mere 10 metres of collision.

The near collision left NASA officials on edge as there were risks involved from the potential debris had the two craft hit each other. It could be dangerous for astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA's deputy administrator Colonel Pam Melroy while expressing the gravity of the situation, said, "It was very shocking personally and for all of us at NASA."

Collisions can produce a large amount of debris which can remain in orbit for a long time and may pose a hazard to other spacecraft. The increased presence of debris can also exacerbate the risk of further collisions.

Tense moment

Speaking at the Space Foundation's Space Symposium, Melroy described the tense moment when NASA's Timed satellite and the defunct Russian spy satellite Cosmos 2221 unexpectedly came close.

"On February 28, a Nasa spacecraft called Timed and a Russian satellite, neither of them manoeuvrable, were expected to make a close path. We recently learnt that the path ended up being less than 10 metres apart, less than the distance of me to the front row. Had the two satellites collided, we would have seen debris generation, tiny shards travelling at 10,000 miles per hour, waiting to puncture a hole in another spacecraft and potentially putting human lives at risk," he reportedly said.

"It's kind of sobering to think that something that's the size of the eraser on the end of your pencil could wreak such havoc - but it can. We're all worried about this. Timed really scared us," he added.

As of now, Earth is encircled by over 10,000 satellites. This is a quadruple rise from the count in 2019.

Globally, around 400,000 satellites have received approval for deployment in low Earth orbit. Moreover, SpaceX is planning to launch an additional 44,000 satellites for its Starlink internet network.