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ESA Space Ferry Moves Space Station to Avoid Debris

ESA Space Ferry Moves Space Station to Avoid Debris

Station with ATV-2
Station with ATV-2

This is the first time the Station’s international partners have avoided space debris with such urgency.

Ground stations continuously track space junk – leftover hardware from defunct satellites – for potentially life-threatening collisions. A fleck of paint can cause major damage travelling at 28 800 km/h. When they raise the alarm, ground teams can move the Station to a safer orbit.

The calculations sometimes take hours – this is rocket science – but fortunately, most of the time, the radar network gives ample warning. Sometimes a dangerous object can slip through the net or its erratic behaviour makes accurate predictions difficult.

This is where Europe’s ATV Georges Lemaître came in on 27 October. A piece of Russia’s Cosmos-2251 satellite that broke up after colliding with another satellite in 2009 was on a collision course with the International Space Station. The object was around the size of a hand and calculations showed it would pass within 4 km – too close for comfort.

Just six hours before potential impact, the five space Station agencies agreed to an emergency manoeuvre. The ATV Control Centre team in Toulouse, France, triggered a boost of 1.8 km/h, enough to raise the 420-tonne Station by 1 km and out of harm’s way.

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November 5, 2014


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