Print 38 comment(s) - last by JediJeb.. on Nov 11 at 5:04 PM

The International Space Station   (Source: NASA)
Astronauts aboard the ISS were forced to sleep in Russian Soyuz escape pods due to a piece of flying debris

A small piece of space debris flew near the International Space Station (ISS) late last week, with ground control flight operators instructing ISS astronauts to hide in escape crafts.

The six-person crew aboard the ISS first learned of the debris early on Friday morning.  Since it proved so difficult to monitor it using satellite and ground-based technology, NASA said the piece of debris likely was extremely small.

Due to the space debris, the crew had to sleep in two Russian Soyuz craft designed to be escape pods -- the actual trajectory of the debris was unknown, causing even more alarm from mission operators.

It turned out, according to space officials, that the debris didn't come close to the ISS after all, but the decision to order the crew into the Soyuz escape craft was still a good idea.  

As the number of floating space junk increases, the possibility of impact with the ISS, satellites or manned missions has increased.  The ISS has been forced to undergo avoidance maneuvers in the past, but this may become an issue that is even more serious in the future.

The United States Air Force announced early last spring it would set aside $500 million in 2010 to help track space junk floating around Earth.  NASA officials also again said the threat of space junk would continue to increase unless space experts came up with methods to stop it.

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RE: Out source to China
By Odysseus145 on 11/10/2009 2:40:19 PM , Rating: 2
You can't just shoot something down in orbit. You can blow it up, but the millions of pieces of debris will continue moving in more or less the same orbit.

RE: Out source to China
By PrinceGaz on 11/10/2009 4:53:24 PM , Rating: 2
If you make the pieces small enough, such as vaporising it with a high-power laser into individual atoms, then I doubt they would be a threat. The ISS is already slowed down by the (very thin) atmosphere which exists at that altitude which is why it needs its orbit boosted every so often, so being hit by atoms isn't a problem for it.

RE: Out source to China
By Solandri on 11/11/2009 5:32:00 AM , Rating: 3
You can't be sure you'll vaporize the whole thing. More than likely you'll vaporize just part of it, and now instead of one big piece of space debris, you'll have multiple pieces of smaller, harder to track space debris.

A 0.2 mm fleck of paint caused a 4mm crater on the Space Shuttle's windshield. Any laser would have to be sure to vaporize all of the target into much smaller pieces to eliminate the risk.

You are better off just keeping the debris intact and finding a way to deorbit the thing in one whole piece. Or (my idea, based on gelatinous cubes from D&D) put a big aerogel blob in orbit which will capture small pieces of debris for a few years, then deorbit it.

RE: Out source to China
By lagitup on 11/10/2009 4:58:09 PM , Rating: 2
If you intentionally caused the detonation a few meters above and ahead of the object wouldn't the force of the explosion cause it to fall back into earth and disintegrate upon reentry??

RE: Out source to China
By Veerappan on 11/10/2009 6:05:39 PM , Rating: 2
And now what do you do with all of the pieces of the explosive device that you just detonated, which are all heading off in competlely different directions? Those pieces would all have to be tracked for possible future collisions as well.

The best theory I've heard of so far is to use a high-powered laser on the ground to impart momentum upon the leading edge of a piece of space debris. You would give it a slight boost in upwards velocity, but you'd slow it down enough to get the orbit to begin to deteriorate.

The hard part then becomes hitting something in space that's traveling in excess of 20,000mph with a laser from the ground (and through the atmosphere)...

RE: Out source to China
By PrinceGaz on 11/10/2009 10:57:13 PM , Rating: 2
Instead of using the high-power laser to slow the object down and cause it to re-entry, why not just vaporise it therefore making it harmless? The military are testing lasers intended to disable missiles and the like, so I'm sure they'll soon have something capable of tracking and vaporising a small object in orbit. Which will also be a nice alternative to watching Iridium flares if you live within a few hundred miles of one of the laser sites, provided they publicise the date and time of each blast.

RE: Out source to China
By AssBall on 11/11/2009 1:31:16 AM , Rating: 2
Why spend that much energy shooting a laser through the atmosphere to vaporise an object in orbit, when you could much more effeciently and easily just push it back into the atmosphere to vaporise with much less power from a laser in a higher orbit?

RE: Out source to China
By Smilin on 11/11/2009 1:07:03 PM , Rating: 3
..and sharks don't survive well in the vacuum of space.

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