Astronauts on the ISS Had to Take Shelter After a Huge Russian Satellite Broke Into 100 Pieces for Unknown Reasons

  • The three crews have sought refuge in their return spacecraft, including Boeing’s Starliner.

  • In 2017, the Russian Resurs-P1 satellite, which weighed 12,345 pounds, ran out of fuel.

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On Thursday, the nine astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) had to move to their spacecraft as a precaution due to a potential collision risk with debris from a disintegrated Russian satellite in low Earth orbit.

Emergency onboard the ISS. At around 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT, NASA directed the astronauts, part of Expedition 71, to take shelter in their return spacecraft as a precautionary measure to protect them from the pieces of the satellite.

The nine astronauts immediately move to the spacecraft docked at the ISS. Four of them moved to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, three to the Russian Soyuz, and two to Boeing’s Starliner.

An additional demonstration for the Starliner. The Starliner spacecraft is at ISS as part of its certification process. It should’ve returned to Earth with its two crew members several days ago. However, problems on board have delayed its return, allowing for more data analysis for future missions.

That said, the Starliner’s astronauts would’ve been able to return to Earth immediately if the collision alert hadn’t been deactivated. Oddly enough, one of the tests they performed during their first days aboard the Space Station was to lock themselves inside the spacecraft to simulate an emergency. Now, they’ve done it again, but in a real situation.

A Russian satellite produced more than 100 fragments. The culprit of this incident is the Russian satellite Resurs-P1. Launched in 2013, it was abandoned in 2021. However, it had been out of fuel to move into higher orbit before that, since 2017.

Attracted by Earth’s gravity, the Russian satellite started slowly falling back to Earth. Experts expected it to re-enter later this year. Instead, it unexpectedly disintegrated. As confirmed by Space Command, this resulted in more than 100 pieces of trackable debris.

An anti-satellite test? Resurs-P1 was an enormous 12,345-pound satellite, so it seems unlikely that Russia used an anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) weapon to destroy it, as it did in 2021. More plausible explanations include a possible collision with space junk or “natural” disintegration due to the collapse of its empty fuel tanks.

In any case, it’s not the first time that the ISS crew members have had to take shelter due to the threat of space junk. This incident is a reminder of the ever-growing issue of space debris, with more than 7,500 active satellites currently orbiting the Earth alongside 45,300 trackable pieces of space junk.

Image | NASA | Roscosmos

Related | SpaceX Is Building a Spacecraft to Destroy the International Space Station–at NASA’s Request

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