In outer space, several things threaten the safety of astronauts and equipment, such as harsh conditions, space weather, and debris. U.S. Space Command and a team from Mission Control Houston prepared to maneuver the International Space Station (ISS) to avoid an unknown piece of space debris that is anticipated to pass nearby.
As an extra precaution, the Russian Progress resupply spacecraft was used to perform the avoidance maneuver, NASA shared. The Expedition 63 crew also relocated Soyuz, a Russian spacecraft, until the debris passed by the ISS.
Experts anticipate that the debris would come a few miles close to the ISS. After the maneuver burn was complete, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced on his Twitter that "the astronauts are coming out of safe haven."
An hour later, he tweeted that the ISS had already maneuvered three times this year to avoid space debris. "In the last [two] weeks, there have been [three] high concern potential conjunctions. Debris is getting worse!" NASA reported that the entire boost to complete the avoidance maneuver took only about 150 seconds.
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Dead Satellites & Specks of Paint
For the past few decades, there have been thousands of rockets and satellites launched into orbit. However, those that have been shut down and retired remain in space as junk. A lot of the rockets also release the debris. Space junk can be as small as specks of paint that have peeled off of equipment to an entire dead satellite.
Some space junk is also the result of satellites colliding into one another on rare occasions. There are also anti-satellite missile tests, which are capable of destroying enemy satellites. Joan Johnson-Freese from Naval War College said that it is difficult to define an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) because "most space technology is dual-use, ASATs come in many non-overt forms."
Removing Space Debris
The United Nations has made several efforts for space junk to be cleaned, especially as orbit becomes increasingly crowded with new satellites. The UN has asked companies to remove dead satellites within 25 years of completed or failed missions.
Several methods that companies have come up with is using large magnets to obtain satellites, using a large net, and using lasers so that the thermal heat would cause the satellite to fall out of orbit.
In 2018, the European Commission, Surrey Space Centre, and other partners began the RemoveDebris mission to remove space debris using a large net. The main goal was to "find the best way to capture the estimated 40,000 pieces of space debris that [are] orbiting Earth."
In 2017, astronomer Jonathan McDowell from Harvard presented in his lectures that nearly 3,000 pieces of space junk are entire satellites, spacecraft, and other payloads. There are also about 165 million pieces of debris that are smaller than 2/5 an inch. "Worst of all," said McDowell, "is rocket stages with residual propellant, which may later blow up."
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