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spaceSpace and Physics

ISS Moves To Avoid Exploded Russian Military Satellite

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockApr 25 2022, 16:55 UTC
Several space tourists were on board the ISS as the maneuver took place

Several space tourists were on board the ISS as the maneuver took place. Image credit: Marc Ward/Shutterstock.com

For the last week, three extremely wealthy men have been stuck on the International Space Station (ISS), having been stranded there by bad weather at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, from which their ride home was to be launched. During their extended stay, they got to have an authentic, if a little intimidating, modern astronaut experience: dodging potentially hazardous space debris.

On Saturday, the ISS undertook a "reboost maneuver" in order to avoid a possible collision with the pieces of a Russian military satellite it blew up, according to CBS News reporter William Harwood. The debris was created on November 15, 2021, when Russia destroyed its own military satellite Cosmos 1408. The satellite, launched in 1982, was blown apart by a land-based missile. Cosmos 1408 created a fair amount of space junk when it was destroyed, given that it was 2,200 kilograms (4,850 pounds). It will eventually slow and burn up, though this process could take over a decade.

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One concern about the debris is that it could cause the "Kessler Effect" (or Kessler Syndrome). Simply put, the Kessler Effect is where a single event (such as an explosion of a satellite) in low-Earth orbit creates a chain reaction, as debris destroys other satellites in orbit. Should this happen, the debris could keep colliding with other satellites or other debris, potentially causing communication problems and leaving areas of space inaccessible to spacecraft. Essentially, it could end up like the film Gravity, but with less George Clooney and more "hey what happened to my GPS". At worst, some speculate it could essentially trap us here on Earth, unable to leave.

The US recently announced it would no longer conduct anti-satellite missile tests due to the issue of space debris, urging other nations to follow suit.

Thankfully, the reboost maneuver appears to have been successful, and the ISS's first space tourists began their return journey on Sunday, a full eight days after they were due home.


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