Russian space debris forced the ISS to avoid a collision with an ‘unscheduled maneuver’

The ISS may have to perform similar maneuvers to avoid the space debris for years to come.
Chris Young

The International Space Station was forced to maneuver to avoid orbital debris from a recent Russian anti-satellite weapons test on Thursday, June 16, a post from reveals.

Russia destroyed the Soviet-era Cosmos 1408 satellite in November 2021 as part of an anti-satellite weapon test.

On Thursday, Russian space agency Roscosmos used its uncrewed Progress 81 cargo ship docked at the ISS to move the entire orbital laboratory away from the trajectory of a piece of space debris from Cosmos 1408.

The ISS performed an 'unscheduled maneuver' last week

Russia's space agency shared a video of the maneuver on social media and messaging service Telegram. It shows the Progress 81 cargo ship firing its thrusters to move the ISS, which has been a focus point for tensions between Russia and the West following the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February.

In March, for example, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin suggested that the ISS could fall out of the sky over Europe due to Western sanctions against Russia's aerospace industry.

The Progress 81 cargo ship fired its thrusters for 4 minutes and 34 seconds to move its trajectory away from the Cosmos-1408 space debris. Rogozin later wrote on Telegram that "at 22.03 Moscow time, the engines of the Russian Progress MS-20 transport cargo ship carried out an unscheduled maneuver to avoid a dangerous approach of the International Space Station with a fragment of the Kosmos-1408 spacecraft."

Russian space debris highlights a wider problem

In an update from NASA, the space agency suggested that the maneuver was made as a precautionary measure: "The crew was never in any danger, and the maneuver had no impact on station operations. Without the maneuver, it was predicted that the fragment could have passed within around a half mile from the station."

Though the crew was not in immediate danger, the event highlighted the threat of space debris. It is a growing problem, with satellite launches increasing at a massive scale with the likes of SpaceX Starlink and competitors sending mega-constellations into orbit at a rapid pace.

When the Cosmos-1408 satellite was intentionally destroyed on November 15, 2021, it created roughly 1,500 pieces of space debris. Astronauts were forced to take shelter in specific sections of the ISS around the time due to concerns the debris could damage the orbital lab. Experts have since warned that the debris could pose a hazard to the ISS for years to come.

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