NASA said late Monday that the International Space Station used its thrusters to move out of the way of a piece of Russian space junk that was coming toward it.
In a news release, the space agency said that the ISS did a burn for 5 minutes and 5 seconds to avoid hitting a piece of Russia’s Cosmos 1408 satellite, which was destroyed in a weapons test in November of last year.
NASA officials have warned about the dangers of the growing amount of space junk, which is caused by a sharp rise in the number of satellites in orbit and by the fact that governments have destroyed satellites on purpose, making new plumes of junk.
The space station did a “Pre-Determined Debris Avoidance Maneuver,” or PDAM, to move farther away from where a piece of Russian Cosmos 1408 debris was expected to go, according to the space agency.
“The thruster firing occurred at 8:25 p.m. EDT and the manoeuvre had no impact on station operations. Without the manoeuvre, it was predicted that the fragment could have passed within about three miles from the station.”
The space agency says that the burn made the space station 2/10 of a mile higher. Cosmos 1408, a satellite that was no longer working, was destroyed on November 15, 2021. This made a cloud of space debris with about 1,500 pieces that could be tracked.
The US Space Command said that Russia tested a direct-ascent anti-satellite, or DA-ASAT, missile. The US Space Command strongly condemned the anti-satellite test, calling it “a reckless and dangerous act” and saying that it “won’t tolerate” behaviour that puts international interests at risk.
In June, the ISS had to make a similar move to avoid the debris from the anti-satellite test. In January, a piece of the test’s waste came close to hitting a Chinese satellite. The Chinese government called this “extremely dangerous.”
NASA says that the ISS has to change its orbit about once a year to avoid space junk. It moves away from the object if the chance of a collision is higher than 1 in 10,000.
There are hundreds of millions of pieces of junk in orbit around our planet that can’t be seen at night. This mess is made up of pieces of old satellites as well as the bodies of old satellites and rockets that are no longer working.
According to a NASA report from 2021, at least 26,000 pieces of space junk orbiting the Earth are the size of a softball or larger, which is big enough to damage a satellite. More than 500,000 pieces of space junk are the size of marbles, which can damage spacecraft, and “over 100 million pieces are the size of a grain of salt and could puncture a spacesuit.”
When these pieces hit each other, they can make even more small pieces of orbital debris. Russia said earlier this year that it plans to leave the International Space Station and end its decades-long partnership with NASA at the orbiting outpost, which will be shut down in 2031.
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