August 25, 2009: Canadians are getting increasingly anxious at the frequency of wayward space satellites falling on them. While Canada is no more likely to get hit by falling satellites or space debris, than any other part of the world, they are the second largest country on the planet (after Russia). Thus Canada is statistically more likely to get hit. There have been enough incidents over the past few decades to keep Canadians aware of their situation, and even a little paranoid.
Last December, a Christmas Day launch in Russia went wrong, and the fourth stage, carrying thee navigation satellites, went into a low orbit that experts on the ground knew would soon bring the bus size object back to earth. Predicting where it would land is very difficult. It eventually came down in Labrador (eastern Canada). Four years ago, a failed U.S. launch had most of the rocket coming down near an offshore oil platform off Newfoundland.
The first high profile incident was 31 years ago, when Cosmos 954, a Russian radar satellite using a nuclear power supply, failed to go to a higher orbit when commanded to, and fell to earth. In doing so, it scattered radioactive material over northern Canada in 1978. This, and all the bad press, was embarrassing to Russia, and unnerving to Canadians.
Earlier this year, a Russian experimental satellite, equipped with a nuclear power supply, showed signs of coming apart. Cosmos 1818 went up in 1987, as part of a test program for a new satellite power program. After five months of tests, 1818 was shut down and moved to a higher orbit (800 kilometers up), where it would not be likely to fall to earth.
Now, with Cosmos 1818 starting to come apart (for reasons unknown), Russia is being criticized once more, for adding to the amount of space junk up there, and posing a risk to other satellites. Such junk is suspected as the cause, or one of the causes, for 1818 falling apart. A similar satellite, Cosmos 1867, went up about the same time, and is having no such problems. Moreover, 1818 is not only shredding fragments, but some of them may be radioactive. This could add to the damage done to any other satellites it might strike.
While Canada is mainly the victim of their size, and the laws of probability, there are a lot more satellites going, and many of them will eventually come down.