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Flight Safety Information


[October 16, 2020] [No. 210]



In This Issue

: Join ARGUS & SGS for a FREE Webinar -

AOKpass - Protecting Your Business and Clients During COVID-19

: Incident: Lion A333 at Kuala Namu on Sep 15th 2020, temporary runway excursion on landing

: ProSafeT - SMS, Quality & Audit Management Software

: Incident: Wings Abadi AT72 at Ujung Pandang on Oct 3rd 2020, all display units off on approach, cabin doors could not be opened, smoke in cabin

: EVAS - Cockpit Smoke Protection

: Robinson R44 - Fatal Accident (Brazil)

: Europe's top air safety official said he thinks the Boeing 737 Max is ready to fly again after its 2 deadly crashes

: Modern aircraft ventilation systems aren't spreading viruses, DoD study suggests

: Logan Airport Will Have Rapid COVID Testing Facility By November

: Partnership to Support Safety Oversight in Netherlands

: Inspection drones buzz this airport (and the FAA is cool with it)

: AirAsia and GE Aviation Implement Group-Wide Network Operations Software

: NetJets Is Bringing Green To The Centerline Of Aviation

: Scholarship available for female student pilots

: Eight nations sign NASA-led Artemis Accords to guide moon exploration

: Two Dead Satellites May Collide Tonight. That's Really, Really Bad.

: SCSI Online Courses - Aircraft Accident Investigation

: RTCA -free webinar: Modernizing the NAS October 21, 1pm ET

: Today's Photo





Incident: Lion A333 at Kuala Namu on Sep 15th 2020, temporary runway excursion on landing


A Lion Air Airbus A330-300, registration PK-LEG performing flight JT-208 from Jakarta to Kuala Namu (Indonesia), landed on Kuala Namu's runway 23 in rainy conditions at about 16:20L (09:20Z) but veered left, the left main gear departed the runway surface for about 30 meters before the crew managed to return the aircraft onto the runway center line. The aircraft rolled out without further incident and taxied to the apron.


A post flight inspection revealed grass on the main wheels and a deep cut in one of the tyres.


Indonesia's KNKT rated the occurrence a serious incident and opened an investigation.



Incident: Wings Abadi AT72 at Ujung Pandang on Oct 3rd 2020, all display units off on approach, cabin doors could not be opened, smoke in cabin


A Wings Abadi Avions de Transport Regional ATR-72-212A, registration PK-WGT performing flight IW-1327 from Raha to Ujung Pandang (Indonesia), was descending through 8000 feet on approach to Ujung Pandang (Makassar) when all display units (DU) went blank. The crew looked at the overhead panel and noticed the DC Gen 1 was faulty. A few seconds later everything went back to normal, but repeated now with all but DU 2 and DU 4 off. The symptoms repeated several times (believed to be 5 times). The crew focussed on their approach to Ujung Pandang's runway 21 which involved terrain before the runway. The crew continued for a safe landing on runway 21 and taxied to the apron, however, the aircraft could not be opened due to a pressurization fault. The crew managed to resolve the issue, the passengers were able to disembark. The first officer, visiting the cabin, then noticed the smell of smoke from the avionics rack, a flight attendant reported there had been smoke between seat row 3 and 6.


The aircraft is still on the ground in Ujung Pandang 12 days later.


Indonesia's KNKT rated the occurrence a serious incident and opened an investigation.



Robinson R44 - Fatal Accident (Brazil)


Date: 15-OCT-2020


Type: Silhouette image of generic R44 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different

Robinson R44 Raven I

Owner/operator: Private

Registration: PR-ESK

C/n / msn: 1533

Fatalities: Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2

Other fatalities: 0

Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)

Location: Rio Claro, RJ -Brazil

Phase: Unknown

Nature: Illegal Flight

Departure airport:

Destination airport:


Two persons died in the crash of a helicopter in Rio Claro, Rio de Janeiro. The airworthiness certificate was cancelled so the helicopter shouldn't be flying.



Europe's top air safety official said he thinks the Boeing 737 Max is ready to fly again after its 2 deadly crashes


The boss of Europe's aviation regulator said he thinks the Boeing 737 Max is safe to fly, Bloomberg reported.


Patrick Ky said his European Union Aviation Safety Agency is likely to formally approve the aircraft to operate in around a month.


The 737 Max has been grounded since the second of two crashes that killed 346 people, which brought about the biggest crisis in Boeing's history.


The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) hasn't approved the craft either, but is also preparing to do so, Bloomberg reported.


The head of the European Union aviation regulator said he considers the Boeing 737 Max safe to fly once again, nineteen months after it was grounded following two fatal crashes, Bloomberg News reported.


Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), told the outlet that he considers the plane is safe to fly in European airspace after two test flights were conducted in September.


The EASA has not yet formally approved the plane to fly, but Ky told Bloomberg that he expects approval to come in around a month after administrative processes are complete.


The EASA grounded the 737 Max in March 2019 after the second of two crashes that resulted in a combined 346 deaths.


The first crash, a plane operated by Indonesia's Lion Air, saw a 737 Max crash into the sea after a malfunction forced it into a fatal nose dive, despite attempts by the pilots to correct it. All 189 people on board died.


Five months later, a similar error forced an Ethiopian Airlines plane to crash into the ground, killing the 157 people on board and prompting regulators around the world to ground the 737 Max.


Production was halted in early 2020 while the company addressed design flaws. The 737 Max crashes plunged Boeing into the deepest crisis of its history, leading to canceled orders, layoffs, and the departure of its CEO.


Approval from major regulators like the EASA to operate once more could give the company a chance to recover.


Ky told Bloomberg: "Our analysis is showing that this is safe, and the level of safety reached is high enough for us."


He said that the agency would like for an extra sensor to be added to the plane to make it safer still in future.


The US regulator — the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) — is also preparing to declare its approval, Bloomberg said.



Modern aircraft ventilation systems aren't spreading viruses, DoD study suggests


(CNN) — A new study released Thursday suggests that people don't need to worry about circulating air spreading coronavirus on airplanes.


The US Department of Defense study supports earlier research showing the ventilation systems on aircraft filter the air efficiently and take out particles that could transmit viruses.

The study, which was released without peer review, did not take into account other ways that people could catch the virus on aircraft -- including from others coughing or breathing directly on them, from surfaces or from confined spaces such as restrooms.


It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when work shoes were work shoes, sports shoes were sports shoes and leisure shoes were leisure shoes. Those lines were never crossed.

The US Transportation Command, The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and the Air Mobility Command used Boeing 777-200 and 767-300 aircraft loaded up with sensors meant to duplicate the effect of a fully loaded passenger flight.

A dummy wearing a surgical mask simulated a coughing passenger infected with a respiratory virus.


The team used fluorescent aerosol tracers to see where particles emitted from the coughing "passenger" went. They were sucked quickly into the ventilation system, the team concluded, and were unlikely to contaminate nearby surfaces or blow into the breathing zones of people seated nearby.


"Testing assumes that mask wearing is continuous, and that the number of infected personnel is low," the research team wrote. "Contamination of surfaces via non-aerosol routes (large droplets or fecal contamination) is more likely in lavatories and other common areas and is not tested here," they added.


"These alternative routes of exposure are more challenging to predict because of uncertainty in human behavior."


Other reports have found people became infected with coronavirus on flights, perhaps when they took off masks to use restrooms.


"Testing did not include substantial movement throughout the plane or in the airport, lounge or jetway, where air change rates and human interactions will vary," the researchers added.


"Similarly, the mannequin remained facing forward, uncertainty in human behavior with conversations and behavior may change the risk and directionality in the closest seats to an index patient, especially for large droplets."


A lot left to learn


Much is still unknown about Covid-19 transmission aboard planes. Two previous studies documented real-life cases of suspected transmission aboard flights.


Both studies involved cases connected to long flights early in the pandemic, before airlines began requiring face masks.


Another study documenting a case of suspected coronavirus transmission aboard a flight involved a woman who wore an N95 mask throughout her flight except when she used the lavatory.


A passenger seated three rows away who developed coronavirus but who never had symptoms also used the lavatory.


The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that "most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes," adding that the lack of social distancing on crowded flights that may require passengers to sit within six feet of others for long periods "may increase your risk of getting Covid-19."



Logan Airport Will Have Rapid COVID Testing Facility By November


BOSTON (CBS) – Travelers will be able to get a rapid COVID-19 test at Logan Airport by November.


Health and wellness company XpresSpa Group has begun building an XpresCheck COVID-19 testing facility in the Terminal E international arrival area.


Besides the rapid test, the facility will also offer a polymerase chain reaction test and a blood antibody test. The rapid test will cost $200 but can be submitted for reimbursement.


The company has already built XpresCheck facilities at JFK International Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.


XpressCheck anticipates they will complete 400 tests a day at Logan Airport.



Partnership to Support Safety Oversight in Netherlands


Geneva – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Netherlands (ILT) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to partner for the improvement of aviation safety. The MoU focuses on the use of the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) to complement safety regulatory oversight in the country.


IOSA was developed in 2003 and successful completion of the audit has been compulsory for all IATA members for more than a decade. Over this time, the value of IOSA has proven itself so much that around 140 of 439 airlines on the IOSA Registry are non-IATA members. The all-accident rate for IOSA carriers is between two and three times better than non-IOSA carriers.


The MoU, signed remotely due to the pandemic realities, establishes mutually agreed conditions, mechanisms and procedures necessary to effectively incorporate IOSA into the safety oversight processes. A coordination group will be established with IATA and ILT members, and the scope of the cooperation includes the sharing of IOSA reports with the CAA in accordance with the rules of the program.


“Aviation is the safest form of transport and airlines always put safety as their number one priority. IOSA has undoubtedly helped increase safety standards for airlines the world over, and is being increasingly recognized by regulators as part of their oversight regimes. In these challenging times all available information needs to be used in an efficient manner and industry programs like IOSA are well placed to contribute to the relaunch of operations. We thank the CAA of the Netherlands for the trust placed in the IOSA initiative and for their commitment to working with us for an ever-safer air transport network,” said Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe



Inspection drones buzz this airport (and the FAA is cool with it)


A novel pilot program encourages drones at a busy international airport, albeit under strict scrutiny.


Since September 2018, FedEx has been inspecting its aircraft at a busy international airport using drones that normally wouldn't be allowed anywhere near the facility. Strict regulations prohibit drones from sharing airspace with planes, but a novel FAA pilot that includes FedEx, as well as drone companies such as DJI and Asylon, could change that in the future.


Drone inspection has long been a hot area for enterprise drones, including in unexpected spaces, but this program is a real watershed in the FAA's evolving approach to drone regulation. I reached out to Joel Murdock, managing director at FedEx Express, for insights about the company's airport drone operations and what it means for the future of enterprise drones in sensitive areas, and he's optimistic.


"We believe drones could help improve efficiencies around aircraft inspections and maintenance at our World Hub at Memphis International Airport," says Murdock, "and other airports around the country.We also believe drones can be used to supplement our existing airport perimeter surveillance and runway/taxiway FOD detection activities."


The program started in May of 2018 when the U.S. Dept. of Transportation launched the Unmanned Aircraft System Integrated Pilot Programs (UAS IPP), granting ten leading participants the opportunity to test ten different use cases for drones. Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, in collaboration with FedEx, was given the go-ahead to test drones for on-airport operations, and the findings from each UAS IPP will help inform future policymaking for drones operating in the United States.


The program's first year was dedicated to developing flight procedures. FedEx began initial operations off-airport in areas of increasing operational complexity, including places such as the Memphis Riverfront Park, Memphis Redbird Ball Park and Liberty Bowl Coliseum. FedEx conducted small unmanned aircraft systems pilot and visual observer training during day and night-time operations and developed and evaluated small UAS flight performance on simulated missions before progressing to the Memphis International Airport to conduct UAS flight tests.


To understand why this is so significant, it's important to understand how strict the current regulatory environment is.


"The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration currently restricts the use of drones within five miles of an airport," explains Murdock. "Through the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority's UAS IPP we are working with the FAA to safely test use cases for on-airport drone usage. Our findings will help inform future policymaking towards the use of drones at and around the perimeter of airports in the United States."


The drones in FedEx's pilot are focused on day-to-day operations, including supporting aircraft general visual inspections using high resolution camera imagery on the top on the fuselage, wings and tail sections at World Hub at Memphis International Airport.


"These drones will identify areas requiring further analysis by inspection personnel to determine if a repair action is required," says Murdock.


If successful, the concept is likely to spread. "We are hopeful that we will be able to continue testing drone use at Memphis International Airport, and eventually other airports important to our operations in the future."












AirAsia and GE Aviation Implement Group-Wide Network Operations Software


· Reducing cost, maximizing on time performance and improving passenger experience with Network Operations decision support

· Improving disruption management and operational efficiency, to minimize the impact of delays and cancellations as operations change


AUSTIN, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)--GE Aviation has partnered with the world’s best low-cost carrier and today announced the go-live of its Network Operations Insights (NOI) to help reduce flight disruption impacts and save costs across AirAsia Group’s airlines.


“As airlines deal with restoring operations affected by COVID-19, operational efficiency has never been more important”


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“As airlines deal with restoring operations affected by COVID-19, operational efficiency has never been more important,” said Andrew Coleman, GM for GE Aviation’s Digital Group. “Our Network Operations platform helps airlines operate flights more efficiently and recover from disruptions faster, enabling them to recoup substantial costs in the process.”


Network Operations Insights (NOI) highlights the impact and cost of a disruption enabling airline operations managers to make data driven decisions as the operations change in real time. Before NOI, obtaining the data from multiple systems was very manual and impractical. Now, live views quantify impacts of operational disruptions on passengers, crew, costs and revenue. Managers can run what-if simulations of cancellations, delays or downgrades to assess options and they can review disruption event history to identify potential process improvements.


Javed Malik, Chief Operating Officer, AirAsia Group said, “AirAsia remains committed to providing the very best in terms of safe, affordable and on time services. Now more than ever, it’s important that we further improve our digital capabilities to deliver an enhanced customer experience on the ground and in the air. We are pleased to expand our partnership with GE Aviation with the introduction of this new software which both integrates easily with and compliments our ongoing in-house digital developments focused upon assisting operational teams across the AirAsia Group to drive service excellence, operational efficiency and operating cost reduction benefits.”


Coleman added, “The Network Operations suite of products delivers powerful software applications, hosted in the cloud on Microsoft Azure, that collect and analyze data streams in real time across multiple airline systems. The analytic software automatically optimizes use of crew and aircraft, while protecting passenger experience as the operation changes.”


About AirAsia


AirAsia is a leading travel and financial platform company in Asia Pacific, providing air transport, travel and lifestyle services, as well as financial services. AirAsia started as a low-cost carrier with operations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, India and Japan, and has carried more than 600 million guests to over 150 destinations in its network across Asia, Australia, the Middle East and the US. Recognized for its world-class service, the airline has been named Skytrax World’s Best Low-Cost Airline 11 years in a row from 2009 to 2019 and World Travel Awards World's Leading Low-Cost Airline for seven consecutive years from 2013 to 2019. AirAsia has since embarked on a transformation journey to become more than just an airline, with the inclusion of hotels, holidays, activities and online shopping on its travel and lifestyle platform, integrated logistics through Teleport and digital financial services via its money app, BigPay. Follow AirAsia on Facebook (AirAsia), Twitter (@AirAsia), Instagram (@airasia), YouTube (AirAsia), Weibo (@亚航之家) and WeChat (亚洲航空).


About GE


GE Aviation, an operating unit of GE (NYSE: GE), is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, components, avionics, electrical power systems, digital solutions and integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft. Learn more at, twitter @GEAviation Watch the video to see how airlines are using GE’s Network Operations. See how digital technology is helping airlines improve air travel.



NetJets Is Bringing Green To The Centerline Of Aviation


NetJets isn’t the first private aviation company to tout sustainability initiatives. In fact, a green focus isn’t even new for the world’s largest private jet operator. The company has been aggressively retiring older aircraft, bringing onboard newer, more efficient jets. The average age of its 750 airplanes is just 6.5 years. However, its launch this morning of an “Official Worldwide Sustainability Program” reflects the desire to take a leadership position on this hot topic and use its significant girth to move the entire segment forward.


“What we really want to announce is how we’ve come together on a comprehensive sustainability program. We’ve been talking about this a lot (internally) over the past 12 to 18 months. How we can bring together the disparate pieces of our sustainability initiatives into one comprehensive program and really use it to drive sustainability, not just for NetJets and our owners, but aviation industry as a whole,” says Brad Ferrell, executive vice president of administrative services.


The program has a three-prong focus, including sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), corporate responsibility and consumer participation.


It follows last month’s announcement that it is purchasing three million gallons of SAF from Neste via Signature Flight Support. All NetJets flights from the San Francisco area and its home base in Columbus, Ohio, will use the new energy source, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional jet fuel.


Ferrell says having NetJets filling up with the sustainable fuel will help build the economies necessary for broader distribution and competitive pricing. Right now, availability is one of the most significant barriers.


From a corporate perspective, the private aviation provider’s Europe unit has been carbon neutral since 2012, going beyond E.U. requirements. Beginning next year, NetJets will offset its training and administrative flights, approximately 1,600 flights.


One of its headquarters’ buildings is Leed Certified, and Ferrell says a dedicated team is continuously pursuing ideas to make NetJets greener, from flight planning software down to having more recycling bins.


Patrick Gallagher, NetJets’ president of sales and marketing, says one area the company wants to improve is getting the word out to its customers. Its Blue Skies program enables clients for both its fractional shares and jet cards to offset flights via a partnership with ClimateCare.


Those offsets protect forests, capture and destroy landfill gas and scale up renewable energy distribution, supporting U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. As of this month, customers in the U.S. have offset 75,000 metric tons of. In Europe, its share owners have offset over one million metric tons.


“Part of this initiative is to do a better job of marketing what we are doing and how our owners can join in,” Gallagher says, adding, “We didn’t actively promote it. Now, we’re making it part of every proposal.”


While customers can offset their entire contract, they can also choose individual flights down to a single hour. The company, which doesn’t publish its flight pricing, posted a rate schedule for offsets on its website with the costs for all dozen different aircraft types it operates.


In case you are wondering, it’s $25.58 per hour for an Embraer Phenom 300, the smallest jet in the fleet. A Bombardier Global 6000, capable of flying nonstop from Los Angeles to Stockholm, is $68.72 per hour.


Ferrell says being a bit louder about what it’s doing on the green front aligns with parent Berkshire Hathaway’s expectation that its companies lead the sustainability charge in their respective industries.


While private aviation is often the target of climate activists, the executives say the entire concept of fractional ownership melds the benefits of business aviation to the industry’s goal of reducing carbon footprint. A quarter share in one of its jets provides 200 hours of annual flying for the buyer, and its aircraft average about 1,000 flight hours per year, including repositioning flights.


By contrast, the entire U.S. private jet fleet averages around 160 hours per plane, Gallagher says. In other words, a single NetJets aircraft does the work of six singularly owned jets. That reduces the number of airplanes that need to be manufactured. The program also enables an owner of a large cabin jet to “downgrade” to a smaller jet for shorter flights or when they are traveling with fewer people, again cutting emissions. On the flip side, the owner of a midsize jet can call for a larger plane when she needs it, optimizing fleet usage.


The need for less is reflected when whole aircraft owners sell them to join NetJets. They typically purchase 75 hours.



Scholarship available for female student pilots


The Ventura County 99s have a Susan Liebeler Student Pilot Milestone Scholarship Award in honor of longtime 99s member, Susan Liebeler. This scholarship, up to $3,000, is available for female student pilots flying out of Ventura County Airports.


Applications will be accepted from Nov. 1 to 15.


2020 is the Ventura County 99s’ 20th anniversary of providing pilot proficiency classes for the aviation community.


The classes increase knowledge for over 3,000 SoCal pilots annually.


The money raised goes to the scholarship fund, which awards up to $18,000 a year to women obtaining a pilot license or increasing their flying experience and ratings. This year’s class series started out to be its best year ever, the group said, but it was cut short due to COVID-19.


Liebeler is being honored for her work over 20 years raising funds for the scholarships by organizing the pilot proficiency classes along with other fundraising events, including the silent auction at the Wings Over Camarillo Airshow.


The Ninety-Nines Inc. is an international organization of female pilots, with over 5,000 members worldwide.


The Ventura County chapter is one of the largest and most active in the organization. Female pilots make up only 6% of the pilot population. The 99s provides mentoring, support and scholarships to women seeking a pilot license.


Liebeler is an attorney and businesswoman, a former official in the administration of President Ronald Reagan and a former federal judicial nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. She obtained her pilot certificate at age 55, and is the international fundraiser for the Ninety-Nines Inc.


For more information or scholarship application, visit



Eight nations sign NASA-led Artemis Accords to guide moon exploration


Eight nations have signed on to become founding members of NASA's Artemis Accords, an international agreement that establishes how countries can cooperate to peacefully and responsibly conduct exploration of the moon.


NASA announced Tuesday that the United States signed the accords, together with Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agreement would establish a “singular global coalition” to guide future expeditions to the moon.


“With today’s signing, we are uniting with our partners to explore the moon and are establishing vital principles that will create a safe, peaceful and prosperous future in space for all of humanity to enjoy,” Bridenstine said in a statement released Tuesday.


NASA developed the Artemis Accords to partner with other nations to set basic principles to guide robotic and crewed lunar exploration. The agreement’s name refers to NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send astronauts, including the first woman, to the moon by 2024.


The accords include provisions for peaceful exploration, safety, transparency, sustainable use of space resources, cooperation to build and operate spacecraft and other hardware, and the management and disposal of orbital debris.


“Fundamentally, the Artemis Accords will help to avoid conflict in space and on Earth by strengthening mutual understanding and reducing misperceptions,” Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations, said in a statement. “The Artemis journey is to the moon, but the destination of the Accords is a peaceful and prosperous future.”


The Artemis Accords build on another major international agreement known as the Outer Space Treaty, which was enacted in 1967. The Outer Space Treaty bans the use of nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction in space and establishes that exploration of space, the moon and other celestial bodies should only be for peaceful purposes.


The Outer Space Treaty was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1966 and it has since been signed by 110 countries.


Unlike the Outer Space Treaty, the Artemis Accords are not binding, and there’s no formal way to enforce the rules set out in the agreement.


And not all countries that have lunar ambitions have signed the accords, though NASA said other countries are expected to join the agreement in the coming months and years. Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space program Roscosmos, has been a vocal critic.


When the Artemis Accords were first announced, Rogozin compared the agreement to an invasion. During a virtual news conference this week at the International Aeronautical Congress, Rogozin also stated that Russia will not take part in NASA’s Artemis program because it is “too U.S.-centric.”



Two Dead Satellites May Collide Tonight. That's Really, Really Bad.


LeoLabs, a company that tracks space junk in Earth's orbit, announced it was monitoring a potential collision of two objects on October 16.


The objects—a defunct Soviet satellite and a discarded Chinese rocket stage—have a combined mass of approximately 6,170 pounds.


Experts fear the collision could spur a chain reaction of collisions, kicking the Kessler Syndrome into effect.


On Tuesday, LeoLabs, a company that monitors the paths of space junk in low-Earth orbit, announced on Twitter it was tracking a potential conjunction—that's space-speak for a mid-orbit crash—tonight between a defunct Soviet satellite and a discarded Chinese rocket stage.


"This is a potentially serious event. It is between 2 large objects and at high altitude, 991km," former astronaut and LeoLabs co-founder Ed Lu tweeted. "If there is a collision there will be lots of debris which will remain in orbit for a long time."


The combined mass of the two objects, which are expected to zip past each other at a whopping relative velocity of about 32,900 miles per hour, is an estimated 6,170 pounds. LeoLabs has since updated its models ... and things are looking grim.


According to the company's latest calculations, the objects are expected to come within 80 feet of each other (±59 feet). The probability of a collision is greater than 10 percent. If the satellites collide, the impact could spread a network of debris throughout low-Earth Orbit.


One of the objects is Parus 64 (Kosmos 2004), a Soviet navigation satellite, which launched on February 22, 1989 and weighs around 1,700 pounds. (It also has a 55-foot-long gravity boom, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophyics, who tracks space junk.) The other is a Chinese-made CZ-4C rocket stage, which is about 2o feet long and is suspected to have launched in 2004.


LeoLabs noted the CZ-4C rocket stage will pass over one of the company's New Zealand-based radars shortly after the expected close approach. This should provide enough data to reveal the fate of the two objects and detect any new debris.


This exact scenario is one that spaceflight experts have been warning about for decades. Earth is shrouded in a web of space junk, with pieces ranging in size from flecks of paint to spent rocket stages. The United States Space Surveillance Network is currently monitoring roughly 200,000 objects between 0.4 and 4 inches, 14,000 objects larger than 4 inches, and thousands of larger objects.


In 1978, NASA scientist Donald Kessler published a landmark paper on the potential impacts of space junk collisions in Earth's orbit. He predicted a grim future in which a chain of collisions could send an impenetrable wave of debris out across low-Earth orbit, rendering the rest of the universe out of reach to humanity for decades.


These concerns have grown in recent years as companies like SpaceX's Starlink, Kepler, and OneWeb draft plans to launch vast constellations of communications satellites into orbit. In a recent interview with CNN Business, RocketLab CEO Peter Beck said the ever-increasing amount of space junk is already impacting operations at the company. Satellite constellations are especially making it difficult for RocketLab to find a clear path to outer space, Beck said.


In September, the International Space Station (ISS) dodged a particularly scary collision. Russian cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin, as well as NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, huddled inside one of the Soyuz capsules attached to the ISS as a precaution in case the space station was compromised by the debris. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed his frustration in a September 22 tweet following the space station's near-miss.


And then there's the threat of bad actors who could potentially fire missiles at satellites in orbit. Both India and China have tested anti-satellite technology in recent years—much to the chagrin of the rest of the spaceflight community.


Monitoring and preventing the collision of space junk has become a high priority both for private space companies and legacy space agencies around the world. Fortunately, programs like the University of Surrey's RemoveDEBRIS project and the U.S. Air Force are developing technology aimed to remove space junk from orbit. It'll be a while before that tech gets off the ground, though.




RTCA free webinar: Modernizing the NAS October 21, 1pm ET


Moderated by Gene Hayman of Collins Aerospace, the panel will discuss how government and industry are collaborating on defining the future frameworks to create a more dynamic airspace (NAS) that enables the new capabilities needed for integration of new entrants. The panel is followed by a Tech Talk: Air Traffic Control during COVID-19.






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