Northern Ireland

NI state papers: Could Soviet satellite self-destruct over Northern Ireland?

Aurora and Planetary Conjunction (c) NASA Image copyright NASA
Image caption What's up there in the night sky?

The danger that a Soviet satellite might self-destruct over local skies exercised the Northern Ireland Office in 1988, according to this year's declassified files.

In a minute to Secretary of State Tom King on 25 October 1988, W Pugh, NIO, noted that on 13 September, ministers were advised of a possible emergency situation.

There was fears that the out-of-control nuclear-powered Russian satellite, Cosmos 1900, might fall on Northern Ireland.

"Ministers will be glad to learn that the perceived danger passed with the burning up of the satellite body over the Congo on re-entry on October 1, 1988," he advised.

Information confirmed that the satellite's automatic safety mechanism had worked, separating the satellite body from the reactor and core which subsequently separated.

The official said: "The reactor body is now in orbit at a height of 700-800 kilometres where it is expected to remain until it falls back to earth in around 50 years with some debris reaching the earth's surface."

The satellite had been tracked on a line between Tory Island in County Donegal and Bournemouth during the two minutes it took to cross the British Isles in its final orbit.

It burnt up over West Africa with no danger to these islands. It was agreed that Northern Ireland's contingency arrangements should be reviewed to face any future satellite threats.

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