International Space Station had to move to dodge space debris: NPR

The International Space Station had to fire its thrusters this week to make sure it avoided space debris in orbit around the Earth.

The station fired its thrusters for 5 minutes and 5 seconds in what NASA called a “pre-determined debris avoidance maneuver” at 8:25 p.m. ET Monday to increase its distance from a piece of what was once a Russian satellite.

NASA says the maneuver increased the altitude of the ISS between 0.2 and 0.8 miles. Without the move, the debris from the satellite would have come within about 3 miles of the space station.

The fragment in question came from the Russian Cosmos 1408 satellite. Russia destroyed it with a missile in November 2021, creating 1,500 pieces of debris, according to NASA. US officials condemned the anti-satellite missile test, saying it would create hundreds of thousands more debris in the years to come.

Space debris is a major problem: there are millions of pieces of debris surrounding the Earth, most of it from explosions and collisions of satellites. And when objects collide, they can create even smaller debris.

Pieces larger than one millimeter number about 100 million, while objects between 1 cm and 10 cm in diameter number about 500,000, and 25,000 pieces larger than 10 cm are known, NASA says.

Space debris can threaten weather forecasts and GPS

Space junk poses a particular threat to satellites and, in turn, services provided by satellites such as weather forecasts and GPS.

“This poses a particular risk to the United States because the United States is probably the most space-dependent power,” said Saadia Pekkanen, director of the Space Law, Data and Policy program at the University of Washington, in a press release. interview with NRP earlier this year. “Compared to other powers, if anything happens to these satellites, it affects the civilian, commercial, and military capabilities of the United States.”

Even very small pieces can be dangerous due to the speed at which objects move in orbit. The average impact speed is usually 22,000 mph, but can reach 33,000 mph.

Debris at altitudes approximately 375 miles from Earth’s surface will typically fall back to Earth within a few years. But if it spins 500 miles or more, it will probably take hundreds or thousands of years to come down.

The International Space Station moves about once a year to get away from dangerous debris. Critical parts of the station can withstand impact from objects as large as 1cm, according to NASA. The agency did not specify the size of the Cosmos 1408 fragment that posed a danger.

There are no binding international rules on how to manage and prevent debris growth in space, but the United States, Russia, China, Japan, France and the European Space Agency have all published guidelines. Chief among them is to design and operate new spacecraft in a way that won’t make the problem worse. New technologies are also being tested to try and remove debris already there.

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