Large Chunk of ISS Space Junk Becomes Easy to Observe (Video)

Article written: 22 Jul , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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A huge piece of space debris, weighing 1400 lb (635 kg) and the size of two refrigerators, is gradually falling to Earth, giving observers on the ground a great opportunity to see it. The junk was jettisoned from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2007 and it is expected to re-enter the atmosphere later this year or early 2009. The Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) was dropped from the ISS after a seven hour spacewalk and pushed in the opposite direction of the space station’s orbit shortly before a re-boost by a Soyuz resupply vehicle. This ensured the EAS would pose no danger to the ISS or crew on future orbits. Now the container is beginning its final few months in space and the bets are on as to where it will crash to Earth…

When the EAS, filled with ammonia coolant, had served its purpose the ISS crew had little choice but to throw it overboard. Astronaut Clay Anderson led the July 23rd 2007 operation with the assistance of cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and robotic arm operator Oleg Kotov as they shoved the EAS Earth-ward along with a 212 lb (96 kg) stanchion used to attach a camera to the station. The whole EVA lasted 7 hours and 41 minutes and the EAS was noted as the largest single piece of junk dropped from the ISS. At the time, mission control estimated that the EAS would orbit the Earth for 300 days; obviously this was a huge underestimate as it continues to spiral closer to the atmosphere one year after the mission.

Observing the EAS (Marco Langbroek)

Observing the EAS (Marco Langbroek)

The EAS is a huge piece of debris and easily tracked from the ground and poses no threat to missions, but it may be a hazard if, as expected, a large portion of the equipment survives re-entry. Dangers aside for now, the EAS is providing amateur astronomers with a new target to point their telescopes at. When the EAS was jettisoned, it was barely visible to the naked eye as it sped overhead with a magnitude of +4 to +4.5. Two days ago on July 20th, veteran satellite observer Marco Langbroek of Leiden, the Netherlands reported observing the EAS at an observable magnitude of +2.0. But it is moving very fast due to its decreased altitude.

Watch the EAS pass Altair in this high quality piece of video astronomy by Kevin Fetter (July 15th, 2008) »

Currently, the EAS can be seen over Europe, and next week North America will be able to spot it. For information on where and when to look for a chance to observe this huge lump of waste from the ISS, check out SpaceWeather.com’s Simple Satellite Tracker before it starts to flirt with our upper atmosphere in the next few months.

Sources: Space Weather, NASA, Collect Space.


11 Responses

  1. Dominion says

    Why? How much did this cost to build? Can’t it be reused? Could it at least be contained somewhere to be salvaged later? This is 1400 pounds of material that should be put to better use. What a waste to throw it away. And what a risk to throw it at our planet. Who makes these decisions and how can we let them know that this is unacceptable?

  2. kcuhC says

    A part of long-term off-Earth living needs to be reuse of objects, I hope NASA will expend more energy on this in the future…1,400 pounds cost a lot to put into space, although I doubt there was any choice in this situation, they should try to think long-term and prevent waste like this in the future. We should waste very little in space.

  3. Chuck Lam says

    Dominion and KcuhC are absolutely correct. What are these geniuses at NASA thinking? Hopefully the next administration will appoint someone with brains to manage NASA.

  4. Deja View says

    Maybe the various space agencies should convene soon and make required viewing of the old TV series “Quark”, which ran on NBC in 1977-78, and starred Richard Benjamin. The series was about the (mis)adventures of an intergalactic garbage scow and its crew. I’m sure a few useful ideas could be recycled from its contents, and we should consider doing it asap, before people start getting killed. Just imagine jewelry made from lost Hubble bolts. eBay would drool with anticipation. Euros only, please!

  5. Jo_She says

    I agree – what were they thinking? But now, why can’t they just hit it with a missle like the last sizeable piece of debris that was going to re-enter?

  6. Paul Weaver says

    Perhaps because they don’t want to turn one large chunk of debris into thousands of small chunks, some of which wouldn’t re-enter the atmosphere, but would pose a hazard in LEO for some time to come.

  7. Member

    Hi dominion, those comments have been removed, they served no purpose here 😉

    Cheers, Ian

  8. dominion says

    I think that Sybil and Squiggy are visiting the wrong site. This really isn’t the place for comments like that. I teach my daughter about our universe here and I don’t think she’s ready for the education they are trying to provide.

  9. Harvey says

    If I remember right, the last piece of space junk that was going to re-enter our atmosphere, was shot down by the military. It was dangerous they said. And this one isn’t? Hmmm,,,,,,,

  10. Dominion says

    Thanks Ian. I appreciate that. We love this site and visit daily to see what new discoveries have been made. This is such an exciting time we live in! My daughter wants to be the first girl on Mars.

  11. Zorgon says

    The NAVY did shoot a satellite but not for a safety issue… they could not risk any piece surviving the fall that might show a secret device

    NASA makes a habit of destroying and wasting space craft. Galileo carrying 34 lbs of plutonium was smashed into Jupiter. Cassini carrying 72 lbs of plutonium will be smashed into Saturn in 2010 (ironic if you have seen the movie 2010)
    Deep Impact slammed into comet Temple 1 creating an unexpected secondary HUGE explosion.

    NASA also has a policy to leave nothing in Lunar orbit so they smash all Lunar orbiters into the moon. They even have a plan to send a new mission, LaCross, to deliberately smash two craft into the water ice at the south pole

    Messenger did a Fly by shooting of Venus with a laser…
    http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2007/05jun_venusflyby.htm

    These guys are out of control with our money. All this stuff could be recycled later , but these Cosmic Litterbugs are literally strewing debris all over the solar system

    Who gives them that right?

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