Hours after astronauts completed a spacewalk and replaced a broken antenna outside the International Space Station (ISS), flight controllers informed them that the flying laboratory would need to move into a slightly lower orbit Friday due to threat from space debris.
Nasa is assessing orbital debris likely to fly close to the station at 4:00 pm IST and Mission Control could perform a debris avoidance manoeuvre. The manoeuvre will have to be performed at least a couple of hours prior to the event. Nasa cleared that the astronauts on board are not in any immediate danger.
“Mission Control is working with Nasa’s international partners to prepare for a possible debris avoidance manoeuvre. The closest pass is expected at about 5:30 a.m. EST Friday, and the manoeuvre would take place about 3 am. EST if needed,” the agency said in a blog post.
The debris dubbed object 39915 was generated during the breakup of a Pegasus rocket launched on May 19, 1994. The breakup happened on June 3, 1996 and debris has been floating in the vacuum around the planet since then.
ASTRONAUTS PERFORM SUCCESSFUL SPACEWALK
Astronauts Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron replaced the broken antenna due to debris strikes. Barron reported at least 11 small debris strikes to the failed antenna that was removed during the spacewalk, with some of the holes looking old. The device — up there for more than 20 years — malfunctioned in September.
Marshburn, 61, became the oldest person to conduct a spacewalk. It was the fourth of his career. Barron, a 34-year-old space rookie, ventured out on her first.
The two astronauts were supposed to complete the job Tuesday, but Nasa delayed the spacewalk because of potentially threatening space junk. Nasa later determined the astronauts were safe to go out, despite a slightly increased risk of a punctured suit from satellite wreckage.
DEBRIS BECOMING INCREASING CONCERN
Last month, Russia destroyed an old satellite in a missile test, sending pieces everywhere. Nasa isn’t saying whether that event was the source of the junk that delayed the spacewalk.
During the first National Space Council meeting under Vice President Kamala Harris this week, top US government officials joined her in condemning Russia’s extensive debris-scattering last month. More than 1,700 sizable pieces of the shattered satellite are being tracked, with tens if not hundreds of thousands too small to see.