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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 Solandri on 11/11/2009 5:22:17 AM , Rating: 2
Except for equatorial orbits, all orbits are inclined. If you launch from Kennedy Space Center, it's at 28.6 degrees latitude. So the lowest energy orbit is inclined 28.6 degrees from the equator. That is, the ground track of the spacecraft will range from 28.6 degrees N of the equator, to 28.6 degrees S of the equator.

If you then launch another satellite from KSC at a later time, it will have the same orbital characteristics, but they two orbits will not be in sync. Worst case, when the first satellite is at 28.6 N, the other is at 28.6 S (remember, the orbit is fixed relative to a static reference frame, but the earth rotates underneath so a later launch will inject into a different orbit). When the two intersect at the equator, they will form a 57.2 degree angle, and thus have a rather considerable relative velocity.


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