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: Relative velocities
By rykerabel on 11/10/2009 3:31:04 PM , Rating: 2
All low orbit trajectories vary by wide margins. Only high orbits like the Lagrange points and geostationary orbits don't have a wide range of trajectories. The ISS is in a low equatorial orbit along with old spy satelites that were in low polar orbits. Very very different trajectories with high angles of impact.

RE: Relative velocities
By JediJeb on 11/10/2009 5:00:29 PM , Rating: 2
I can see objects in polar orbits being the worse threat, 90degrees to the orbit of the ISS would probably give the greatest relative velocity difference. I can see angles of approach causing the largest variance in relative velocity since a higher total velocity would make for a higher orbit. ( centrifical force laws coming into play). I also didn't think about eccentricity of orbits either.

RE: Relative velocities
By zozzlhandler on 11/10/2009 5:55:47 PM , Rating: 3
What about 180 degrees? going the exact opposite direction would give an impact velocity of double the orbital velocity. I think that is the worst case scenario.

RE: Relative velocities
By Solandri on 11/11/2009 5:14:52 AM , Rating: 2
Pretty much all orbits (except polar) go in the same direction the earth is rotating. Launching in that direction (west to east) adds the earth's rotational velocity to achieve orbital velocity. Launching the other way (east to west), you would have to subtract the earth's rotational velocity, requiring even more energy than a polar orbit to achieve orbital velocity.

RE: Relative velocities
By JediJeb on 11/11/2009 5:04:08 PM , Rating: 2
Also retrograde orbits (reversed to the rotational direction of the planet) tend to slow an object down continually due to gravitational drag. Any object in a retrograde orbit would deorbit much sooner.

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