International Space Station activates emergency maneuver to escape collision with debris
Space waste is a problem that has been aggravated by advances in space exploration. According to NASA, the Earth's orbit is full of space debris. More than 130 million individual pieces of debris orbit the planet. Of these, about 34 thousand are so large that they have to be monitored by dedicated entities. As a result, the International Space Station (ISS) had to trigger an emergency maneuver to avoid the potential collision with a fragment of space debris.
In the recent past, one of these fragments hit the ISS causing air leak.
Collision that could have catastrophic risk
Space junk is a serious problem. According to data recorded in February 2020, in Earth's orbits there are more than 128 million pieces of debris smaller than 1 cm. In addition, there are about 900,000 pieces of debris from 1 to 10 cm and it is estimated that there are about 34,000 pieces larger than 10 cm.
The International Space Station (ISS), the 420-ton laboratory that orbits the Earth 408 kilometers high, had to make an emergency maneuver at 10:19 pm on Tuesday to avoid a possible collision with a piece of space debris.
The ISS currently has 63 crew members on board the station. The emergency plan forced astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner to take refuge in the Russian module. Thus, in the event of collision and catastrophic damage, they would trigger the evacuation plan for Earth via the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft.
At the same time, NASA and Roscosmos controllers started the engines of the Progress 75 cargo ship, anchored in another of the station's modules, to keep the ISS away from the impact path. In spite of everything, the ISS had to endure a 150 second ignition.
Ignition maneuver completed. The astronauts are leaving the security shelter.
Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, said on Twitter, six minutes after Progress engines shut down.
Maneuver Burn complete. The astronauts are coming out of safe haven.
As can be read on one of NASA's blogs, the maneuver was done "as a precaution" and "at no time was the crew in danger". However, after the surveillance network had detected space debris, the maneuver was mandatory, despite the limited time available.
The remains, of a size that did not exceed, later passed a distance of 1,390 meters, on Wednesday. After completing these maneuvers, the crew opened the floodgates to gather all the crew and returned to their usual activities. They are scheduled to return to Earth next month on board Soyuz.
Space debris is a serious problem that has only increased
This was the third time, in 2020, that the International Space Station had to adjust its trajectory to avoid a collision with space debris. In this regard, Bridenstine commented on Twitter that the waste problem "will be more".
At the altitude at which the station is located, these fragments of garbage travel at speeds greater than 28,000 kilometers per hour, so they are true projectiles capable of causing serious damage to the space station and other spacecraft and satellites.