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Hampton University's $140 million satellite faces new dangers in space: 'We could have a collision'

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Posted at 11:50 AM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 13:50:43-05

HAMPTON, Va.— Hampton University is the only HBCU with a satellite in space, but its existence faces new threats that could abruptly end its mission.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried 143 satellites into orbit Sunday, setting a new world record for the most satellites launched by a single rocket. But back on Earth, some say the mission could come at a great cost to science.

Hampton University fears the 143 SpaceX satellites are heading on a collision course that could destroy their own satellite.

The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere satellite, also known as AIM, helps scientists study clouds to better understand climate change. It’s the first and only NASA mission to be entirely led by a historically Black college. It’s also in the same orbit as SpaceX’s satellites.

“We use it to train students, to do science, to advance the field, to bring prestige to the university,” said AIM Principal Investigator James Russell.

Hampton’s satellite doesn’t carry fuel on board to be able to move away from other objects headed in its direction.

“As these orbits are being adjusted, [if] something happens with satellite, the orbit changes slightly, then we could have a collision,” said Russell.

AIM has been in orbit since 2007. Russell says they just won a proposal with NASA to continue the mission of AIM for at least another three years because the work is far from finished.

As of now, there is no governing agency to regulate these increasingly crowded orbits, a change many feel is necessary.