Space: Russian Nukes Gone Wild

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February 10, 2009: A Russian experimental satellite, equipped with a nuclear power supply, is coming apart up there. 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. This was to avoid what happened to Cosmos 954, a radar satellite using a nuclear power supply, that 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.

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.

 


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