Space Station Evades Space Debris

Article written: 28 Aug , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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The International Space Station had to perform an evasive maneuver yesterday to dodge space debris from a Russian satellite that disintegrated earlier this year. ESA’s ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) was used to perform the avoidance maneuver, the first time it had been used for such a maneuver. A few things about this maneuver are interesting. First, this is the first time in five years that the ISS has had to perform a debris avoidance maneuver. Second, the maneuver was unusual in that was a retrograde maneuver, which slows the ISS and brings it to a lower orbit instead of higher. The last time a retrograde maneuver was performed was eight years ago. Third, according to Jim Oberg at MSNBC, the Russians deny that the satellite has broken up. Fourth, however, the Mission Control Center in Moscow carried out the maneuver.

The maneuver began on August 27 at 18:11 CEST (16:11 UT) and finished 5 minutes 2 seconds later.
In the current ISS configuration the ATV, which is docked to the aft end of the Russian Zvezda Service module at the back of the station, is the only vehicle that can carry out this kind of maneuver. First, the station was turned 180 degrees so that ATV’s aft thrusters were at the front of the ISS with respect to the station’s flight profile.

Once turned, Jules Verne ATV used its rear thrusters produce a speed of 1 m/s to slow the Station down, lowering it about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile). The space station orbits between 320-400 km (200-250 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

Usually maneuvers raise the orbital altitude in order to compensate for the continual drag the station encounters from the upper atmosphere. But Oberg reported that “because the station is now operating near the upper end of its allowable altitude range, any further increase could have exceeded the lifting performance of planned docking missions over the next few months. Hence NASA had to make the unavoidable and wasteful choice to go in the opposite direction.”

The satellite was a Russian Cosmos-2421 naval surveillance satellite, launched in 2006 and designed for electronic eavesdropping to keep track of Western military vessels. According to U.S. tracking data, the satellite disintegrated on March 14 into hundreds of pieces, and later disintegrated further resulting in over 500 tracked objects, one of the largest debris clouds in space history. But Russian officials say the satellite has not broken up, but only quit working. Find more info on this at MSNBC.

Once the debris avoidance maneuver was complete, the ISS was turned back to its original orbital attitude, and control of the ATV was handed back to the ATV Control Center in Europe.

Sources: ESA, MSNBC


13 Responses

  1. The Occupant says

    Is it just me, or do the russians just LOVE to name thier satelittes, “Cosmos”? Because if that number is an accurate representation of the number of satelittes Cosmos, then over 2000 craft bear that name. In a word, lots.

  2. Philip from Australia says

    And did the key logger get all the passwords needed for this?? Could be handy.

    I kid… I kid. Couldn’t resist. Sorry. 🙂

  3. Adam says

    That is a beautiful picture of ISS and ATV. Why not link to a high-res version (e.g. spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/shuttle/sts-124/hires/s124e009982.jpg). Looking at the photo I just realized how big the ATV really is compared to the other modules of the ISS. I’ve never given its size much thought before. I’m telling you: Europe is definitely ready for its own manned programme. It’s sad there is so much haggling between the European countries on the issues of space exploration (among others). Come to think about it, if ESA was allowed to it could field a crew transport to ISS before the shuttle is retired. But I guess the European politicians don’t want to upset Russia any more than they already have…

  4. kcuhC says

    What is it with communist governments that think they can say things that fly in the face of facts and strong evidence, and just expect everyone to believe it. They think the BS they use within their borders works outside…I think they choose to lie not just to benefit themselves, but becuase they are incapable of anything else.

  5. Member
    kanthan says

    “satellite disintegrated on March 14 into hundreds of pieces, and later disintegrated further ”
    I wonder what causes this to happen.

  6. Jorge says

    LOL!

    kcuhC, dude, you live in the past. Russia stopped being communist in 1990 or 1991, when the USSR dissolved. Do download an upgrade to your wetware. 🙂

  7. NoAstronomer says

    kcuhC, lying in the face of the observable facts is not a trait limited to communist governments. Though they are definitely pushing the edge of the envelope.

    Also the lies are not intended for the population. You don’t think that the people of the old Soviet Union actually *believed* all that crap? No the lies are aimed at the naive external observers.

  8. Sili says

    Pity it had to be done this way. What a waste. Why oh why don’t we have more flexible access to space yet?

    How does one go about turning a whole space station around? How fast can it be done?

    Is there room to let the next ATV dock at the other end? Then as the old one gets low on fuel it can be used for stuff like this until it’s empty while the ‘full’ one is used for the regular boosts.

  9. Bob says

    Does anyone find it scary that Moscow controls the modules which enable ingress and egress and now apparently the manuvering capabilities. Tell me how this happened? what a massive strategic error. With the relationship between russia and the rest of the world deteriorating, they essentially have complete control over the station if the want it. This move which was taken over and was carried out by moscow mission control to avoid a debri field which according to russia never existed in the first place from a satellite of their own making makes no sense. All this did was tell the rest of the world was that they are in control of the ISS. They then “handed back” control to Europe Mission Control. Then, Russia used the ISS to take images of Georgia during the attack to “check on humanitarian issues” Bull S__T. They are using it for military purposes and there is not a damn thing we can do about it. If they want they can just say, you cant dock and we will move it to where ever we want to use it for whatever they want.

    I am shocked that Europe and the U.S. put Russia in such a controlling position on something that we have paid the majority of the bill on and have been the driver.

    This is like the satellite shoot downs from china and the u.s. They were only doing it to “protect” everyone from a falling satellite when everyone knows that it was a show of force to let the other know it had the capability.

    This is no different. I’m pissed, how about you?

  10. Jorge says

    You’d probably be less inclined to become pissed if you knew that control over the space station is constantly being handed over back and forth to the various mission controls of the participating agencies, depending on who has the best communication with the station, on who’s module work is being carried on, etc.

    And if you payed less attention to western propaganda. One of the biggest preversions of free press is that it publishes (freely) whatever is fed to it as “breaking news”, without bothering to confirm them, for fear of losing the scoop. When it comes to short-term propaganda, it’s just as unreliable as controlled press. But since it’s “free”, people tend to believe it, which doesn’t happen when we know the press is being censored. And this means that the “free press” is more efficient as a way to distort public perception of the facts than controlled media.

    Our world is a blast, isn’t it?

    I have a rule of thumb: I don’t take at face value anything that comes out as “news” regarding developping situations. Until those “news” are confirmed by independent reports they are just as likely to be information as misinformation.

    I only wish more people did the same.

  11. SUGARAT says

    The reason we let russia have so much control is that they do not care about the environmental/health impact caused by launching the way they do. Check out the fuels they use, which are prohibited here. We supported their space program because they can do things we aren’t allowed to in the states(lower costs for us to rent launches from them than to do so at our increased cost) . Our policy makers probably underestimated their ability to cause problems for us. And does not America need a constant bad guy? When the raping of our natural resources starts up again the war on terror will slip from the media, and that vacuum will need to be filled with some other evil.

  12. La Estación Espacial Internacional (ISS) se vio forzada a llevar a cabo una maniobra evasiva para esquivar los deshechos espaciales de un satélite ruso que se había desintegrado a principios de este año. […] Fuentes: Nancy Atkinson para Universe Today, ESA y MSNBC.

  13. Chuck Lam says

    Hmm . . . can’t help wonder how NASA plans on avoiding a golf ball sized rock, traveling maybe 30,000 mph, smacking head on into a manned vehicle on its way to Mars. Maybe running into something is responsible for past probe disappearances. Maybe space isn’t as empty as we think it is.

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