KEY POINTS

  • Two large pieces of space debris were expected to come very close to each other on Thursday evening
  • A company that tracks objects in Earth's orbit found "no indication of a collision"
  • The collision would have created even more potentially hazardous debris

Two massive pieces of space debris that were at "high risk" of colliding with each other on Thursday evening appears to have avoided a collision.

California-based company LeoLabs recently warned that a defunct Russian satellite that was launched in 1989 and a discarded Chinese rocket stage could collide at 8.56 p.m. EDT on Thursday over the south Atlantic ocean.

About an hour after the expected time of the collision, LeoLabs said they noted no sign of a collision.

"No indication of collision," LeoLabs said in a tweet. "CZ-4C R/B passed over LeoLabs Kiwi Space Radar 10 minutes after TCA. Our data shows only a single object as we'd hoped, with no signs of debris."

The company continues to monitor the situation.

The Aerospace Corporation also made a similar conclusion. Astrodynamicist Moriba Jah of the University of Texas at Austin estimated that the miss distance was about 70 meters (0.04 miles), the BBC reported.

This is good news because with a combined mass of about 6,000 pounds and a speed of about 33,000 miles an hour, such a collision could potentially cause even more debris that would stay in space for a very long time. Other working spacecraft and satellites could sustain substantial damage even from being hit by tiny pieces of debris.

Only recently, for instance, the International Space Station (ISS) had to perform an "avoidance maneuver" to avoid being hit by a piece of debris that actually used to be a part of a 2018 Japanese rocket that blew up into 77 pieces.

Earlier in the year, a large piece of space debris, from a rocket launched by China, fell into the Atlantic ocean. Unlike smaller pieces that tend to burn up in the atmosphere, such large pieces can survive the descent.

With the increase in space presence, the space junk problem continues to grow. Earlier this week, the European Space Agency (ESA) released a report stating that despite taking efforts to reduce the amount of space junk, "we are still making more and more debris."

"We have observed fundamental changes in the way we are using space," the head of ESA's Space Debris Office, Tim Florer, said in a ESA news release. "To continue benefiting from the science, technology and data that operating in space brings, it is vital that we achieve better compliance with existing space debris mitigation guidelines in spacecraft design and operations. It cannot be stressed enough – this is essential for the sustainable use of space."

Space_Debris An artist's illustration showing the swarm of space debris orbiting Earth. Photo: ESA/ID&Sense/ONiRiXEL