July 18, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

A Russian satellite breaks up in orbit and the ISS crew takes refuge

A missing Russian satellite broke apart this week, sending a cloud of dangerous debris around Earth. Skywatchers identified more than 100 pieces of space junk extending from the satellite's former location, prompting astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) to take shelter in several spacecraft, including the Boeing Starliner in trouble.

Russia's Resurs P1 (above) was an Earth observation satellite originally launched in 2013. The satellite operated continuously until it was retired in 2021. It had a mass of approximately 6,000 kilograms (13,227 lb), and a large portion of that mass is now dispersed. throughout low Earth orbit. Russia did not deorbit the satellite, considered the The most responsible approachinstead allowing its orbit to decay naturally.

P1 Resources

Credit: Roscosmos

Before the breakup, Resurs P1 orbited about 355 kilometers (220 miles) above Earth. Observers expected it to re-enter the atmosphere over the course of the next year, but Resurs P1 did not survive that long. LeoLabs, a company that uses a network of radar sensors to monitor low earth orbit, reported on June 26 that Resurs P1 appeared to be releasing a cloud of debris composed of about 100 objects. By the next day, Resurs P1 had produced at least 180 trackable objects.

According to NASA, the debris cloud represented a possible threat to the ISS. On the afternoon of June 26, he ordered the crew to take shelter in their respective spacecraft as a precaution. That means Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams climbed back into Starliner, which is still docked at the station while mission managers try to better understand the vehicle. recent bugsThe astronauts were allowed to return to the station about an hour later.

It’s not clear why Resurs P1 spontaneously disintegrated. Dangerous clouds of orbital debris have been produced in the past as a result of anti-satellite weapons tests, but there is no indication that Russia destroyed Resurs P1 on purpose. The most plausible explanation is that operators failed to properly passivate the satellite when it was dismantled. Passivation is the process of draining batteries and purging fuel tanks, failures of which can cause the kind of disintegration we saw this week. Some have also suggested that Resurs P1 was struck by a small, untracked piece of debris.

LeoLabs says the number of traceable bits from Resurs P1 will likely increase in the coming days, but U.S. Space Command does not currently believe the breakup is a threat to the ISS or other space assets. As the space around Earth becomes more populated, there may be More of these eventsSo, it may only be a matter of time until something major is affected.

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