ISS dodges space junk with damaged ‘lifeboat’ parked outside

The ISS as it appeared in November 2022.

The ISS as it appeared in November 2022.

A piece of Russian space debris came uncomfortably close to the International Space Station early Wednesday morning, resulting in a maneuver to avoid the debris. Routine stuff, except for the fact that three crew members would have been forced to escape inside a potentially damaged Soyuz spacecraft if an ISS evacuation had been necessary.

Another day, another canceled spacewalk. This time, instead of canceling the spacewalk due to a disturbing refrigerant leak in the Soyuz MS-22 docked to the station, it was canceled due to the threat of space junk.

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Tracking data warned of a remnant of the Russian Fregat-SB upper stage approaching within a quarter mile of the ISS, prompting the maneuver to avoid debris, NASA explained in a statement. Blog to post. Ground controllers told the crew to cease spacewalk preparations and instead prepare for orbital adjustment. The maneuver occurred at 8:42 a.m. ET today, in which the thrusters of a docked Progress 81 spacecraft fired for 10 minutes and 21 seconds, pulling the ISS away from the intended path of the debris, according to a report from The NASA. to update.

The space agency said the crew was not in any immediate danger and a new date for the canceled spacewalk, in which astronauts Frank Rubio and Josh Cassada will continue their solar panel installations, will be announced soon. The crew may not have been in “any immediate danger,” but the incident was untimely.

Russia’s Roscosmos space agency is in the midst of determining whether its Soyuz MS-22 is suitable for flight following a December 15 leak from an external cooling circuit in the spacecraft’s service module. Inspections revealed a 0.8 mm wide hole that may have been caused by a micrometeor or a small piece of space junk. Alternatively, the leak may be the result of a pre-made radiator vent, such as NASA speculated Monday.

For Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, this spacecraft is their ride home, but it’s also their lifeboat in the event of a serious emergency. Roscosmos expects to make a decision on the spacecraft’s flight capability before December 27. Tests over the weekend indicated that the Soyuz’s thrusters are working properly, but some temperature fluctuations inside the spacecraft’s cabin could be cause for concern. The MS-22 could be deemed fit for service, but in the event that it is not, Roscosmos will send an uncrewed Soyuz as a replacement. The capsule was supposed to go up in March as part of the MS-23 mission, but Roscosmos says it could speed up the flight and go up in mid-February.

That’s still not great. If an evacuation of the space station is deemed necessary (for whatever reason), Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin are expected to use the docked Soyuz MS-22 as an escape vehicle. On December 16, Russian ground controllers sent new instructions to the ISS for this same contingency, that is, in the event that “an urgent descent” is required, according to the state news agency TASS. explained. The details of these new instructions are unknown, but they likely consist of a revised evacuation checklist and a set of procedures to accommodate the damaged cooling system once the spacecraft is undocked and airborne.

In other words, the trio would have to take their chances inside an apparently damaged spaceship simply because there was no other option. Yes, a SpaceX Crew Dragon is also docked to the station, but it’s meant to return the remaining crew, namely NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Anna Kikina from Roscosmos. As for the Progress 81 parked outside, it’s an expendable cargo vehicle that burns up upon re-entry, so obviously not an option.

A large-scale evacuation from the ISS has never happened, nor is it likely to happen any time soon. But these two coincidental incidents – the leaky spacecraft and the threatening space junk – are a reminder that space can be a very dangerous place to work, and astronauts up there are always vulnerable.

Plus: SpaceX makes 3 orbital launches in 34 hours, breaking its record

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