No Minister

Dodging bullets

You might think it difficult to dodge a bullet that’s traveling at 18,000 mph!

But it’s a lot easier when you’re also traveling at that speed.

The International Space Station (ISS) has had to change its orbit quite a few times over the last twenty years to avoid a collision with some piece of space junk, and it did so again a few days ago:

Earlier this week, the International Space Station (ISS) was forced to maneuver out of the way of a potential collision with space junk. With a crew of astronauts and cosmonauts on board, this required an urgent change of orbit on November 11.

Over the station’s 23-year orbital lifetime, there have been about 30 close encounters with orbital debris requiring evasive action. Three of these near-misses occurred in 2020.

That last is a key point. As the article points out, things are getting more crowded in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and it’s not helped by what the Chinese did a few years ago:

This week’s incident involved a piece of debris from the defunct Fengyun-1C weather satellite, destroyed in 2007 by a Chinese anti-satellite missile test. The satellite exploded into more than 3,500 pieces of debris, most of which are still orbiting. Many have now fallen into the ISS’s orbital region.

At these speeds even tiny particles can be lethal (Energy = Mass x Velocity2). In May this year the ISS was hit: a tiny piece of space junk punched a 5mm hole in the ISS’s Canadian-built robot arm, the junk was probably less than 1mm in size.

ISS over New Zealand

You would think people would learn. Even Hollywood has. In the 2013 SF thriller movie Gravity, the Space Shuttle, while servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, gets hit by debris created by the Russians testing an anti-satellite weapon against one of their own satellites, leaving Sandra Bullock’s astronaut character as the sole survivor who has to try and get back to Earth. It’s a 90 minute thrill ride of a movie, so long as you ignore things like orbital mechanics which would make it impossible to get from the Hubble orbit to the ISS with just a jetpack device!

Which brings us to the latest news, Russian anti-satellite missile test endangers space station crew:

An anti-satellite missile test Russia conducted on Monday generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit that endangered the International Space Station and will pose a hazard to space activities for years, U.S. officials said.

The seven-member space station crew – four U.S. astronauts, a German astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts – were directed to take shelter in their docked spaceship capsules for two hours after the test as a precaution to allow for a quick getaway had it been necessary, NASA said.

I would think the two Russian cosmonauts may have a few choice words for their military compatriots when they return to Earth at the end of their mission.

It seems like a crazy thing for Russia to do, which has lead people to wonder if it’s connected with dodging bullets on Earth:

Satellite images released Nov. 8 showed an estimated 90,000 Russian troops gathered at the Ukrainian border, prompting House Republicans to petition President Biden to deploy troops to the region.

Belarus has been bringing illegal immigrants to Minsk and then sending them to the borders of Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Turkey has shut down their airports for travelers from three Middle Eastern countries who want to travel to Belarus. NATO has condemned the situation.

Written by Tom Hunter

November 18, 2021 at 4:00 pm

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