The International Space Station had to swerve to avoid Russian space debris


The International Space Station had to change its orbit slightly to avoid Russian space debris on June 16, 2022. The debris was created by a Russian anti-satellite test in 2021, and it would have come within half a mile of the station.

The ISS swerved to avoid Russian space debris

Roscosmos shared a video of the avoidance maneuver on Telegram, and it later appeared on Twitter. In the maneuver, the ISS’s Progress 81 fired its thrusts for 4 minutes and 34 seconds. The move is what NASA calls a Pre-Determined Avoidance Maneuver (or PDAM).

The ISS was never fully at risk of colliding with the Russian space debris. However, NASA says the move was meant to add more distance between the station and the debris’ flight path. “The crew was never in any danger and the maneuver had no impact on station operations,” NASA shared in an update.

The debris belongs to the remains of Russian Cosmos 1408. Russia destroyed the non-functional satellite back in 2021. When it destroyed it, the country created an estimated 1,500 pieces of Russian space debris in orbit around the planet. This debris, experts have warned, could be problematic for the ISS and other Earth-orbit ventures for years to come.

A growing pile of space junk

Image source: JPL

While it might not have had any direct impact on the station’s operations this time, the addition of Russian space debris to Earth’s orbit is very notable. In the past, space junk has collided with the ISS and damaged the station. Thankfully that wasn’t the case here, but it does continue to raise concerns over the growing amount of space debris out there.

Scientists have been looking for solutions to space junk for decades. Space junk can be found everywhere, and it poses a risk to a lot of operations. Most recently, 3 tons of space junk slammed into the side of the Moon. In the future, space junk slamming into the Moon or even Mars could mean putting human lives at risk.

Hopefully, the latest issue with Russian space debris from Cosmos 1408 has will push us to find better solutions to the problem. Thankfully, NASA plans to crash the ISS into the ocean when it retires the station. If the space agency was to destroy it in orbit, there’s no telling what kind of issues it could cause to the space junk conundrum.



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