Space debris causes ISS to carry out avoidance maneuver

Russian and US astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) carried out an avoidance maneuver this Tuesday to adjust the station’s orbit to avoid collision with space debris, according to NASA, urging better management of objects in Earth’s orbit.

The operation lasted two and a half minutes. During that time, the three crew members – two Russian and an American – relocated to be near the Soyuz spacecraft to evacuate if necessary. This precaution was taken out of an abundance of caution.

NASA said that the debris passed within a mile of the ISS, and the astronauts were able to return to their normal activities after the procedure. NASA chief Jim Bridenstine tweeted, “Maneuver Burn complete. The astronauts are coming out of safe haven.” According to Bridenstine, this was the third such maneuver for this year.

Read also: Evidence shows some bacteria can survive in space for years

The ISS is a modular space station that orbits in the low Earth Orbit (LEO), roughly 260 miles above the Earth, at a speed of approximately 17,000 miles per hour. Up to 6 astronauts can live and work in the station and the station has been continuously occupied since November 2000.

A computer-generated image representing space debris as could be seen from high Earth Orbit. Image: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office

The station orbits the Earth every 90 minutes. Even a small object could damage the solar panels and other areas of the station at such high velocity. These avoidance maneuvers are necessary and could become even more frequent as the Earth’s orbit is littered with space junks introduced by human activities over the last sixty years. According to NASA, 25 such maneuvers have occurred between 1999 and 2018.

Anti-satellite missile launches by China in 2007 and India in 2019 can break these objects apart even further and create added risks to satellites and future space missions. Today, the military currently conducts the surveillance of space junk. Supporters want the Office of Space Commerce, a civilian organization, to take over this job.

Bridenstine tweeted, “Debris is getting worse! Time for Congress to provide @CommerceGov with the $15 mil requested by @POTUS for the Office of Space Commerce.”

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