The Progress 78 cargo ship launched toward the International Space Station on Tuesday (June 29) would come perilously close to one of SpaceX's Starlink satellites, a Falcon 9 rocket fragment.

The Progress spacecraft launched from Roscomos' Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 7:27 p.m. EDT (2327 GMT) on Tuesday, carrying around 3,600 lbs. (1,633 kilograms) of cargo to the orbital outpost, including food, fuel, and other supplies (June 29). Progress 78 will pass within three and a half hours of the two objects before docking at the International Space Station at 9:02 p.m. EDT on July 1.

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ClearSpace 1 animation Screenshot from YouTube/Luke Dormehl

How Close Is The Close Approach?

The Roscosmos TsNIIMash Main Information and Analytical Center of the Automated System for Warning of Hazardous Situations in Near-Earth Space (ASPOS OKP) detected the close approach. It triggered a potential collision alert, Roscosmos said in a statement released on the space agency's website Wednesday, June 30, at 7:47 a.m. EDT.

On Thursday (July 1) at 5:32 p.m. EDT, the Starlink 1691 satellite will be barely 0.9 miles (1.5 kilometers) away from Progress 78, according to preliminary projections (2132 GMT). A component of a Falcon 9 rocket booster left in orbit in 2020 is scheduled to approach the spaceship within 0.3 miles three minutes later (500 meters).

Ground control personnel are continuing to monitor the situation, according to the Roscosmos press office, which could not provide any further details.

Daily Mail said the arrival would pave the way for the long-awaited launch of the Nauka laboratory, a module that will considerably extend the Russian sector of the International Space Station, on July 15.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the circumstance was not unexpected.

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"There's a lot more stuff in that 'just below the ISS' altitude regime than there used to be thanks to Starlink," McDowell told Space.com. He went on to say that he could not independently confirm the close approach because Progress 78 is likely to make at least one orbit correction before the predicted collision.

According to McDowell, Starlink 1691, which launched in September 2020, was lowered out of operational orbit at 340 miles (550 kilometers) in April and is now on its way to burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

"It takes them several months to lower the orbit from 550 km to reentry," McDowell mentioned. "The Falcon 9 launch vehicle debris, I suspect, is one of the four Starlink tension rods jettisoned from the V1.0-L9 mission in August 2020. That launch used a higher parking orbit than usual, so the rods did not reenter quickly as they do on most Starlink launches," he added.

He went on to say that he could not independently confirm the close approach because Progress 78 is likely to make at least one orbit correction before the predicted collision.

Space Community Concerned Over Number Of Satellites

For some time, the international space community has been concerned about the growing number of satellites, spent rocket stages, and pieces of space debris, which only grows when orbital objects collide and break apart over time. On May 12, roboticists from the Canadian Space Agency discovered a minor hole in the space station's robotic arm's thermal blanket. The arm's operation was unaffected by the strike, which has been assisting astronauts in servicing the station and manipulating big equipment since 2001.

The International Space Station, according to NASA, undertakes maneuvers to avoid space debris per year. According to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, a "bullet hole" was discovered in one of the station's solar panels in 2013, created either by a micrometeorite or a piece of debris.

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