International Space Station swerving to avoid Russian space debris, NASA says

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The International Space Station fired its thrusters to maneuver clear of an oncoming piece of Russian space debris, NASA said Monday evening.

The space agency said in a press release that the ISS performed a five-minute, five-second burn to avoid a fragment from Russia’s Cosmos 1408 satellite, which the country destroyed in a weapons test in November last year.

NASA officials have previously warned of the risks of proliferation of debris in space, caused by a dramatic increase in the number of satellites in orbit and several cases of governments intentionally destroying satellites and creating new plumes of trash.

The space station performed a “pre-determined debris avoidance maneuver”, or PDAM, to give the ISS “an additional measure of distance from the predicted trajectory of a fragment of Russian Cosmos 1408 debris”, said the space agency.

“The thruster firing occurred at 8:25 p.m. EDT and the maneuver had no impact on station operations. Without the maneuver, it was predicted that the fragment could have passed approximately three miles from the station.

The burn increased the space station’s altitude by 2/10 of a mile, according to the space agency.

On November 15, 2021, Cosmos 1408, a satellite that is no longer operational, was destroyed, generating a cloud of debris comprising some 1,500 pieces of traceable space junk.

US Space Command said Russia had tested a direct-ascent anti-satellite, or DA-ASAT missile, and strongly condemned the anti-satellite test, calling it “a reckless and dangerous act” and saying he “will not tolerate” behavior that endangers international interests.

The ISS was forced to perform a similar maneuver in June to avoid debris created by the anti-satellite test. In January, a piece of debris created by this test came within striking distance of a Chinese satellitein a meeting that the Chinese government called “extremely dangerous”.

The ISS typically has to shift its orbit to avoid space debris about once a year, moving away from the object if the risk of collision exceeds one in 10,000, according to NASA.

Invisible in the night sky, there are hundreds of millions of pieces of debris orbiting our planet. This debris is made up of parts of old satellites as well as whole satellites and defunct rocket bodies.

According to a NASA 2021 Report, at least 26,000 pieces of space junk orbiting Earth are the size of a softball or larger – big enough to destroy a satellite; more than 500,000 pieces of debris are marble-sized – capable of damaging spacecraft; while “over 100 million pieces are the size of a grain of salt that could pierce a space suit”.

When these fragments collide, they can create even more smaller orbital debris.

Russia said earlier this year that he planned to retire from the International Space Station and ending its decades-long partnership with NASA at the orbiting outpost, which should be retired by 2031.

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