Space Junk Tracker: How Did ISS Avoid Scary Collision with Destroyed Chinese Satellite?

Space Junk Tracker: How Did ISS Avoid Scary Collision with Destroyed Chinese Satellite?
The International Space Station (ISS) shifted more than 1,200 meters from its previous position to prevent collision with space junks from a destroyed Chinese satellite. Photo : NASA/UNSPLASH

The International Space Station (ISS) shifted more than 1,200 meters from its previous position to prevent collision with space junks from a destroyed Chinese satellite.

Space Junk Tracker: How Did ISS Prevent Collision With Chinese Satellite Debris?

The Russian space agency Roscosmos posted on Twitter that the orbit of the ISS was boosted with the engines of the cargo spacecraft ProgressMS18 to avoid a collision with space junks. According to preliminary data, the station's orbital altitude increased by around 1.2 kilometers after the operation.

Moreover, Business Insider reported that the mooring and orientation engines of the Progress MS18 transport cargo vehicle were fired for 361 seconds to accomplish the nudge, at 11:15 p.m. Moscow time.

To give further details, the said debris originated from the Chinese Fengyun-1C meteorological satellite, which was launched in 1999 and deactivated in 2002 but remained in orbit. As part of an anti-satellite test in 2007, China destroyed the satellite with a ballistic missile launched from the ground.

Several countries, including the United States, have criticized the explosion that resulted in the development of over 3,000 pieces of space junk, which is expected to remain in orbit for decades.

On the other hand, the Russian space agency added that space junk from the Chinese satellite was only 600 meters away from the space station, posing a threat to the ISS.

Since it was a threat, the altitude of the ISS has been boosted by 1240 meters as a result of the corrective maneuver, putting it at 420.72 kilometers away from Earth.

Luckily, none of the astronauts on board were affected by the temporary shift of the ISS.

Aside from the astronauts on board, the incoming crew arriving in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule such as NASA astronauts Raja Chari, ISS veteran Tom Marshburn, nuclear specialist Kayla Barron, and ESA's Matthias Maurer will also not be affected by the said shift, per The Register.

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What Is Space Junk?

According to NASA, the Department of Defense's global Space Surveillance Network (SSN) tracks over 27,000 bits of orbital debris or space junk. In the near-Earth space environment, there is a lot more debris that is too small to track but big enough to endanger human spaceflight and robotic missions.

Moreover, the majority of orbital debris is made up of human-generated objects such as fragments of spacecraft, microscopic specks of paint from a spacecraft, rocket parts, defunct satellites, or explosions of objects in orbit moving about in space at high speeds.

Since both the junk and the spacecraft are moving at such high speeds, about 15,700 mph in low Earth orbit (LEO), even a small piece of orbital debris colliding with a spacecraft might cause major problems. The growing amount of space debris poses a threat to all space vehicles, including the International Space Station and other human-capable spacecraft.

The risk of collisions with space debris is taken seriously by NASA, which maintains a long-standing set of procedures for dealing with any potential collision danger to the space station.

The said procedure, which is part of a larger set of decision-making aids known as flight rules, informs when the closeness of space junk raises the risk of a collision enough that evasive action or precautions to ensure the safety of the crew are needed.

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