Northern Ireland news

Soviet satellite threatened north in 1988

Secretary of state Tom King was briefed on NIO fears a Soviet satellite might self-destruct over Northern Ireland

THE danger that a Soviet satellite might self-destruct over Northern Ireland troubled the NIO in 1988.

Previously confidential government papers reveal in a minute to the NI Secretary of State, Tom King on October 25 1988, W Pugh noted that ministers were advised on September 13 of a possible emergency situation if the out-of-control nuclear-powered Russian satellite, Cosmos 1900 fell 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 said.

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

Mr Pugh explained: "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 fifty years with some debris reaching the earth’s surface."

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

It eventually burnt up over west Africa and it was agreed that NI’s contingency arrangements should be reviewed to face any future satellite threats.

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