International Space Station Had To Dodge Piece Of ‘Space Junk’ This Week
NASA is calling for funding to better track space debris after the International Space Station had to dodge a piece of oncoming space junk.
The space agency announced on September 22 that it was working with US Space Command to track the debris, which was expected to pass within 1.39 kilometres of the ISS at 6.21pm EST that day.
To ensure the flying piece of junk didn’t collide with the station, controllers fired the thrusters on a Progress spacecraft docked to the station for two and a half minutes about an hour before the object’s closest approach.
NASA said the three people currently onboard the ISS were not in danger, but they boarded the Soyuz spacecraft docked to the station ‘out of an abundance of caution’.
Thankfully the debris passed without incident, but NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said more action needs to be taken so space junk can be more closely monitored.
In a tweet after the station’s manoeuvre, he wrote:
In the last 2 weeks, there have been 3 high concern potential conjunctions. Debris is getting worse! Time for Congress to provide @CommerceGov with the $15 mil requested by @POTUS for the Office of Space Commerce.
Bridenstine said the ISS has already had to move three times this year to avoid debris, indicating it is a continual concern.
An August newsletter from NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office said the ISS previously manoeuvred to avoid debris on April 19 and July 3. The first manoeuvre was to avoid debris from a Chinese weather satellite destroyed in a 2007 anti-satellite weapons test, while the second was caused by debris from a Soviet-era upper stage motor that broke apart in 2003.
NASA did not identify the debris involved in the latest incident, though space analyst Jonathan McDowell later said it was from an upper stage of a Japanese H-2A rocket that launched the Ibuki-2, or GOSAT-2, Earth science satellite in October 2018.
The debris object that ISS avoided is now available on SpaceTrack as 2018-084CQ, 46477, from the breakup of Japan’s H-2A F40 rocket stage.
Bridenstine announced the signing of a new memorandum outlining cooperation between NASA and the US Space Force on September 22, alongside Space Force chief of space operations General John ‘Jay’ Raymond.
Per Space News, Raymond commented:
We partner in space situational awareness. We have NASA representatives on our operations floor.
One of the thousands and thousands of objects that we track, and the most critical object that we track, is the International Space Station, making sure that we can keep that asset safe and protect the astronauts that call that home.
The $15 million mentioned by Bridenstine was requested by the Commerce Department for the Office of Space Commerce in its fiscal year 2021 budget proposal, with the bulk of the funding going to space traffic management work.
A spending bill passed in July rejected the request because it was still awaiting the final report requested by a fiscal year 2020 spending bill to examine which agency was best suited for civil space traffic management.
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NASA Orbital Debris Program Office