June 10, 2023

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ISS Avoids Collision (and Having to Exchange Info) With Russian Space Junk

ISS Avoids Collision (and Having to Exchange Info) With Russian Space Junk

International Space Station
Artsiom P/Shutterstock.com

On Monday night, the International Space Station noticed some Russian space junk in its side view mirror, which was closer than it appeared, and fired its thrusters to avoid an accident.

The collision could have been dangerous, not to mention inconvenient, considering how long it takes to exit a space station and exchange insurance information.

“This evening, the International Space Station’s Progress 81 thrusters fired for 5 minutes, 5 seconds in a Pre-Determined Debris Avoidance Maneuver (PDAM) to provide the complex an extra measure of distance away from the predicted track of a fragment of Russian Cosmos 1408 debris,” NASA said in its usual style of a totally easy to read statement.

It was a bit of a close call, but a close call by space standards (not like when you narrowly dodge a grocery cart in a parking lot). The debris fragment would have passed within 3 miles (5 kilometers) of the station, so the station skedaddled into a higher orbit

The space junk wasn’t the result of Russian cosmonauts taking out the trash or some guy in Moscow putting too much lighter fluid on his barbeque. Instead, it’s due to Russia blowing up a defunct Cosmos 1408 satellite in a 2021 missile test that was heavily-criticized.

That explosion created around 1,500 pieces of debris at the time, and U.S. officials condemned the anti-satellite missile test, calling it “a reckless and dangerous act.” But they say that about a lot of things.

Space junk is becoming a bit of problem, even if it’s not likely to ding your car on road anytime soon. There are big chunks like nonfunctional satellites and numerous smaller chunks like pieces of blown-up satellites. Sometimes they even hit each other and create even more pieces of space junk, like that broom scene in Fantasia.

In any case, the International Space Station successfully avoided this fragment and will probably have to avoid more in the near future until someone sweeps up a little.