ISS nudged to avoid debris from destroyed Chinese satellite


The International Space Station performed a short engine burn on Wednesday to avoid potentially hitting a chunk of space junk.

At 2315 Moscow Time (2015 UTC), the thrusters on Russia's Progress MS-18 transport cargo vehicle, which is docked to the ISS, fired for 361 seconds to perform the small nudge, Roscosmos said.

The agency confirmed on Twitter it had successfully performed the shift, and that the ISS is now safe from a fragment of China’s Fengyun-1C weather satellite that was whizzing by.

The danger posed by the debris was pretty low; the shrapnel was expected to come within about 600 metres of the orbiting lab if no shift was made. That said, it's probably best these things aren't left to chance. The burn increased the station's altitude by 1,240 metres, putting it 420.72 kilometres from Earth right now.

Fengyun-1C, launched in 1999, was controversially blown up in 2007 by a missile as part of an anti-satellite test performed by the Chinese government. The projectile shattered the craft into an estimated 3,000 fragments, polluting Earth's orbit even further.

Fortunately, the temporary movement of the ISS didn't affect any of the astronauts onboard nor will it bother the incoming crew arriving in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. NASA ‘nauts Raja "Grinder" Chari, ISS veteran Tom Marshburn, nuclear specialist Kayla Barron, and ESA's Matthias Maurer are expected to lift off for the station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2103 ET on November 11 (0203 UTC the next day). ®

Speaking of China, America's Space Force this month detected a companion object circling Shijian-21, a satellite launched in October by the Middle Kingdom to "test and verify space debris mitigation technologies."

It's not clear if the object – which appears to be an apogee kick motor – is some debris for the satellite to tackle, part of some kind of military weapons test or equipment experiment, the sign that something's gone wrong, or something else. Curiouser and curiouser.

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