The technique that allowed the Space Station to avoid space debris

The technique that allowed the Space Station to avoid space debris

The in-space maneuver performed by the International Space Station (ISS) prevented it from colliding with numerous fragments of space debris on September 22. The space station almost suffered a disastrous impact on the potential collision. Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, used the incident as a basis for advocating more funding that helps the space agency develop a framework to handle the management of space traffic. 

On September 22, NASA announced their joint efforts with the United States Space Command in tracking unidentified fragments of space debris that will pass a few miles from the space station. Controllers ignited a Progress spacecraft’s thrusters attached to the space station for a few minutes before the nearest proximity to the space station preventing it from colliding with the debris. The scientists residing in the space station estimated that the object would pass approximately 1.39 kilometers from their location without causing any damage incidents to the station. Despite NASA’s three-member crew residing in a safe zone, the agency said that the astronauts boarded the Soyuz spacecraft connected to the space station’s lobby for some time until the object passed the station. 

NASA never unveiled out the identity of the debris in its public statements made about the near-collision approach. Jonathan McDowell, a space analyst, said that the trash, as part of the upper phases of a Japanese H-2A launch vehicle that carried the Ibuki-2 and GOSAT-2. The two Japanese Earth Observation satellites launched into orbit during a space inauguration conducted in October 2018. Since February 2019, the debris from the Japanese H-2A rocket’s upper stages has been in rotation at least 100 kilometers from the International Space Station. NASA continues to track at least 70 objects from the pile of debris.

Members of the community that advocates for space safety warn that the rocket’s upper stages contribute to space junk’s build-up. The objects from the piled debris are large, forming a deposition in identical orbits. The debris formation increases the chances of risks from space collisions with spacecraft and satellites. The upper stages of rockets and other launch vehicles can detach independently because the residual propellant burst the rocket tanks and explosion from batteries. 

Jim Bridenstine tweeted how the devastating in-space debris maneuver frustrated the crew residing in ISS. He said that this year alone, the space station performed three maneuvers to avoid space debris. His statement pointed out the alarming rate of space debris. The situation with the space junk worsens with the numerous inaugurations of mega satellite constellations. Space debris from non-reusable spacecraft and non-functional satellites add to the current trash currently in space. In conclusion, NASA partnered with the United States Department of Defense (DoD) to monitor space activity for any potential debris collision with the ISS or NASA spacecraft.