The International Space Station forced to flee deadly Russian debris

((Photo by Paolo Nespoli – ESA / NASA via Getty Images))

The International Space Station was forced to move away from potentially lethal Russian debris.

The floating laboratory operated its thrusters for just over five minutes, so that it could be at a safe distance from a fragment of a destroyed Russian spaceship.

The fragments came from Cosmos 1408, NASA said. That was an old satellite that was destroyed in a Russian weapons test in November last year – and since then pieces of which have flown over Earth, repeatedly putting missions at risk.

The space station activated its thrusters starting at 20:25 EDT, eventually raising the station’s altitude by just over 1,000 feet. Without such a maneuver, it is estimated that the piece of space debris could pass within three miles of the space station, according to a blog of NASA about the event.

It is not entirely unusual for the space station to maneuver to avoid potentially dangerous space debris, and NASA notes that the station has dodged space junk. more than 30 times since 1999.

But unlike common unintended debris, such as the depleted upper stages of rockets, the debris the space station dodged on Monday was created intentionally.

Around November 15, 2021, the Russian military tested an anti-satellite missile, or Asat, on Cosmos 1408, a deceased Soviet-era spy satellite. The destruction of the satellite created more than 1,500 new debris fragments and forced Russian astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS to take shelter in their anchored spacecraft in case they were to evacuate the station.

The Asat test sparked an international condemnation protest and sparked discussions at the United Nations about banning the Asats and Asat tests. NASA administrator Bill Nelson called the test a “reckless”, “dangerous” and “destabilizing” action.

The United States pledged to end any future anti-satellite missile tests in April and last used a missile to destroy a satellite in 2008.

Some experts fear that the use of Asat in warfare may accelerate the onset of the so-called Kessler syndrome, a runaway chain reaction in which space debris destroys satellites, creating more debris, destroying more satellites. The end result of a cascade of Kessler syndrome would be orbital lanes so clogged with debris that no one could launch anything into space for years, perhaps even centuries, to come.

According to Space News, US Space Force officials believe that about two-thirds of the debris created by the Asat test re-entered Earth’s atmosphere in September. But the material that remains in orbit continues to threaten other spacecraft, as illustrated by the ISS maneuver on Monday.

Also, it’s not the first time the ISS has had to dodge Russian Asat test debris this year; the space station performed a similar maneuver in June.

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