Space Junk May Force Crew from ISS

Article written: 6 Nov , 2009
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Update #2, 5:30 pm: NASA has now said that after further analysis, the space debris they have been tracking no longer poses any concern or threat to the ISS. Everyone can rest easy tonight! The piece of debris was only 5 cm long, and will not pass within the “pizza box” zone around the station (0.75 x 25 x 25 kilometers) that calls for an alert.

A hard-to-track piece of space junk may come within a half a kilometer of the International Space Station later today, and NASA managers are considering asking the crew to board the docked Soyuz capsules as a precaution. The time of closest approach is at 10:48 p.m. EST, and the object was detected too late for the station to do an evasive maneuver. Depending on the outcome of additional tracking data analysis, the crew may be awakened later and directed to go into the Soyuz vehicles around 10:30 pm or given the option to sleep in Soyuz tonight. NASA says they don’t believe the crew is at risk, but precautions are prudent in dealing with space debris.

The crew was told about the debris, which ground stations have not been able to track consistently, said NASA spokesman Kyle Herring. Trajectory experts are continuing to verify information about the debris. “All this is a precaution, and we do not believe the crew is in any danger at this time or at the time of closest approach, but are making preparations in the unlikely event the approach would be closer than expected,” Herring said.

UPDATE: 2:30pm: As of now, NASA is planning for the crew to close all the hatches on the station and enter the Soyuz. “We have data that indicates we might be heading to a conjunction, however we do not have enough data to have any confidence in the outcomes we’re predicting at this point,” Capcom Ricky Arnold told the crew from mission control. “We’re hoping we’re going to be a lot smarter at 2200 (GMT), but right now we have to plan for an indication that we will have a conjunction.”

NASA will make a final decision on what course of action they will take at about 5 p.m.

Sources: NASA TV, Twitter



8 Responses

  1. Sili says

    Is there a radar on the ISS to help chart this junk for future reference?

  2. stargeezer says

    I foresee a great future for space junk collectors. And space recycling depots. And space tugs and tow trucks. And taxi services. And space spysat remov… er – never mind. Maybe just space junk collectors.

  3. SteveZodiac says

    I did some calculations and a 1/10 gram object travelling at the speed of the ISS (7710 m/sec) has an energy of 2972 Joules. A joule is 1 Watt second so if you bring the object to rest in 100th of a second (that will take 77 metres) then it will impart an energy of 207Kw – ouch!

  4. DrFlimmer says

    SteveZodiac,

    I think, you’re calculation only holds if the object collides with a relative speed that matches the speed of the ISS, right?

    Sadly, I haven’t seen any news about the real relative speed and what kind of object this is. Why must momentum always be conserved?

    Anyway: Good luck ISS!

  5. Member
    Aqua says

    Didn’t cosmonauts aboard MIR hear several meteoric(?)/or space junk impacts? The Mir station did get a few holes in the solar panels the size of a quarter after a meteor shower…

  6. Hans-Peter Dollhopf says

    The risk of a collision with space junk needs to be set in relation to the value of the affected object.

    What is the most valuable artifical object currently in space? Of course, by far, the ISS. It is the most expensive and most valuable object of them all up there. This value is even more increased by the instance that the lives of the crewmembers are endangered by a crash.

    Furtheron, the risk of a collision for an object has to be set in relation to the redundancy linked to that object. For example, hile Iridium 33 could very quickly be replaced after its crash with Cosmos 2251, there is no backup for the ISS.

    Also the meaning of a space object for human activities here on the surface of the planet. A damaged communication satelite could interrupt daily business and thus cause further loses. But with the crash of the ISS our hopes and our dreams might be killed.

  7. SteveZodiac says

    Dr Flimmer
    Good point I am assuming that the speed of the fleck is relative to the ISS which would be geostationary which of course it coudn’t be in that orbit, however, If it is going the other way at 7710 m/sec then double ouch.

  8. SteveZodiac says

    and of course all the energy wouldn’t all be transferred but I was just trying get an idea of the energies involved and 1/10 gram yielding 40 VW Golf engines is enough visualisation to me.

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