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Warning Shot: a “Bullet Hole” on the ISS

A hole from a meteorite in the Space Station's solar array

A hole from a meteoroid pierces the Space Station’s solar array

Canadian astronaut and Expedition 35 commander Chris Hadfield just shared this photo on Twitter, showing a portion of one of the solar array wings on the ISS… with a small but very visible hole made by a passing meteoroid in one of the cells.

In typical poetic fashion, Commander Hadfield referred to the offending object as “a small stone from the universe.”

“Glad it missed the hull,” he added.

Hole in an ISS solar cell made by a meteoroid

Hole in an ISS solar cell made by a meteoroid

While likened to a bullet hole, whatever struck the solar panel was actually traveling much faster when it hit. Most bullets travel at a velocity of around 1,000-2,000 mph (although usually described in feet per second) but meteoroids are traveling through space at speeds of well over 25,000 mph — many times faster than any bullet!

Luckily the ISS has a multi-layered hull consisting of layers of different materials (depending on where the sections were built), providing protection from micrometeorite impacts. If an object were to hit an inhabited section of the Station, it would be slowed down enough by the different layers to either not make it to the main hull or else merely create an audible “ping.”

Unnerving, yes, but at least harmless. Still, it’s a reminder that the Solar System is still very much a shooting gallery and our spacefaring safety relies on the use of technology to protect ourselves.

Image: NASA / Chris Hadfield

Fact: The 110 kilowatts of power for the ISS is supplied by an acre of solar panels!

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Peter Vogel April 29, 2013, 6:16 PM

    And it’s that acre of solar panel arrays that is mostly responsible for the brightness of the ISS as it passes overhead.

  • Jim Scotti April 29, 2013, 6:23 PM

    It’s unlikely this was caused by a meteor, more likely a piece of man-made space debris in low Earth orbit.

    • Erbo April 29, 2013, 10:47 PM

      Could have been either. Either one would hit with a multiple of bullet speed, and would be equally dangerous.

      • Jim Scotti April 30, 2013, 12:04 AM

        Yes, definitely, I agree, but man-made debris is way more plentiful at the altitude of low Earth orbit where ISS is, so much more likely to have caused that damage.

  • Miranda April 29, 2013, 6:40 PM

    No Commander Hadfield/McCoy jokes?

  • Aqua4U April 29, 2013, 11:42 PM

    What effect does this hole have on the operation of the solar panels? What voltage lost? Is it measurable?

    • Grimbold May 1, 2013, 3:09 AM

      I’d imagine the power loss due to the damage caused by the impactor would be very minor.

  • jeff April 30, 2013, 11:17 AM

    ” If an object were to hit an inhabited section of the Station, it would
    be slowed down enough by the different layers to either not make it to
    the main hull or else merely create an audible “ping”,… at least that’s what we’re telling those folks up there. ;-).”

    There, fixed it for you.

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