NASA forced to postpone spacewalk outside the ISS after debris warning

NASA is forced to postpone spacewalk to replace faulty antenna system outside the ISS after ‘debris warning’: Alert could be related to space junk created by Russia’s anti-satellite test

  • NASA postponed the spacewalk of two astronauts on Tuesday after receiving a ‘debris notification’ from an orbital outpost
  • The announcement came at 1:01AM ET and the walk was set for 7:15AM ET
  •  Astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron were scheduled to replace a faulty radio communications antenna
  • It is not clear if the debris comes from two weeks ago when Russia blew up one of its own satellites  

NASA was forced to postpone a spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS) today after receiving a ‘debris notification’ for the orbital outpost. 

Astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron were set to venture outside the giant orbiting laboratory at 7:10am ET for six and a half hours to replace a faulty radio communications antenna.

‘NASA received a debris notification for the space station,’ the space agency tweeted.

‘Due to the lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available.’

It is not clear if the debris stems from the event two weeks ago, when Russia blew up one of its own decommissioned satellites in orbit that resulted in a field of 1,500 pieces of debris endangering the crew of the ISS.

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NASA was forced to postpone a spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS) today after receiving a ‘debris notification’ for the orbital outpost. NASA shared a tweet at 1:01AM ET announcing the change 

The debris cloud made by Russia’s test forced the seven crew on the ISS to temporarily take shelter in their return ships. 

NASA TV had planned to provide live coverage of the spacewalk’s ‘extravehicular activity,’ or EVA, operation.

The outing would have been the fifth spacewalk for Marshburn, 61, a medical doctor and former flight surgeon with two previous trips to orbit, and the first for Barron, 34, a US Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer on her debut spaceflight for NASA.

The objective of the mission was to remove a faulty S-band radio communications antenna assembly, now more than 20 years old, and replace it with a new spare stowed outside the space station.


Astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron were set to venture outside the giant orbiting laboratory at 7:10am ET for six and a half hours to replace a faulty radio communications antenna

Marshburn and Barron would have made the changes while stationed at the end of a robotic arm, which was set to be  operated from inside the station by German astronaut Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency (ESA), who would have had help from NASA’s Raja Chari.

The four astronauts came to the ISS together aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

And they joined two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut already aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Russia blew up one of its own satellites on November 12 using a missile using what US analysts believe was an A-235 PL-19 Nudol ‘satellite killer’ missile. Cosmos 1408, a defunct spy satellite launched in 1982, was the destroyed target, which resulted in a field of 1,500 pieces of debris endangering the crew of the ISS

Although anything can happen while in space, the seven individuals were not prepared for what happened a few days later.

On November 12, Russia blew up one of its own satellites using what US analysts believe was an A-235 PL-19 Nudol ‘satellite killer’ missile. 

The satellite was orbiting around 300 miles from Earth’s surface at the time, and created a debris field between 270 miles and 320 miles from the surface.

ISS orbits around 260 miles from the surface, though on Monday was slightly lower at 250 miles, meaning the debris passed over it by a distance of about 20 miles as their orbits crossed.

It is not clear if the debris from Tuesday stems from the event two weeks ago, when Russia blew up one of its own decommissioned satellites in orbit that resulted in a field of 1,500 pieces of debris endangering the crew of the ISS

Astronauts aboard the ISS were ordered by Houston Mission Control to get to safety inside the ship’s escape pods. 

The residual debris cloud from the blasted satellite has dispersed since then, according to Dana Weigel, NASA deputy manager of the ISS program. 

Although NASA has yet to fully quantify additional hazards posed by more than 1,700 larger fragments it is tracking around the station’s orbit, the seven percent higher risk to spacewalkers falls ‘well within’ fluctuations previously seen in ‘the natural environment,’ Weigel said.

Still, mission managers canceled several smaller maintenance tasks under consideration for Tuesday’s spacewalk, Weigel added.

WHAT IS SPACE JUNK? MORE THAN 170 MILLION PIECES OF DEAD SATELLITES, SPENT ROCKETS AND FLAKES OF PAINT POSE ‘THREAT’ TO SPACE INDUSTRY

There are an estimated 170 million pieces of so-called ‘space junk’ – left behind after missions that can be as big as spent rocket stages or as small as paint flakes – in orbit alongside some US$700 billion (£555bn) of space infrastructure.

But only 27,000 are tracked, and with the fragments able to travel at speeds above 16,777 mph (27,000kmh), even tiny pieces could seriously damage or destroy satellites.

However, traditional gripping methods don’t work in space, as suction cups do not function in a vacuum and temperatures are too cold for substances like tape and glue.

Grippers based around magnets are useless because most of the debris in orbit around Earth is not magnetic.

Around 500,000 pieces of human-made debris (artist’s impression) currently orbit our planet, made up of disused satellites, bits of spacecraft and spent rockets

Most proposed solutions, including debris harpoons, either require or cause forceful interaction with the debris, which could push those objects in unintended, unpredictable directions.

Scientists point to two events that have badly worsened the problem of space junk.

The first was in February 2009, when an Iridium telecoms satellite and Kosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite, accidentally collided.

The second was in January 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite weapon on an old Fengyun weather satellite.

Experts also pointed to two sites that have become worryingly cluttered.

One is low Earth orbit which is used by satnav satellites, the ISS, China’s manned missions and the Hubble telescope, among others.

The other is in geostationary orbit, and is used by communications, weather and surveillance satellites that must maintain a fixed position relative to Earth. 

 

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