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ISS Space Science

ISS Nearly Clobbered By Space Debris 131

erice writes "A chuck of space debris came within 335 meters of the space station, forcing the crews to head to their escape capsules and prepare for emergency evacuation to Earth. '[NASA's] Associate Administrator for Space Operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, said it was the closest a debris object had ever come to the station. An analysis was now underway to try to understand its origin, he added.'"
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ISS Nearly Clobbered By Space Debris

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  • A Chuck...? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @02:40AM (#36608268)

    What about a Bob or a John of space debris? Hmmmm?

  • I'm glad no harm came to the crew, but its good that an occurrence of this sort happened without injuring anyone. Maybe now they will start to develop smarter technology to help prevent disasters such as this in space.
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

      Maybe now they will start to develop smarter technology to help prevent disasters such as this in space.

      I bet you the answer is going to be "space is a bad and dangerous place, let's not go there anymore".

      • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
        Which would be good. Start exploring the oceans ! There is alien life there ! There are exploitable riches there ! There are artefacts from lost civilizations there ! (yeah, sunken ships with archaelogical treasures onboard)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @02:42AM (#36608284)

    Clearly we need astronauts who are better at playing Asteroids.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We need astronauts who read/watch Planetes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetes

      It is a story about people who collect space debris in the future.

  • I skimmed the article, but I don't see that they mention how they noticed the debris. How was that done? Because they crew went into the escape capsules, you'd think it was detected i advance. How long in advance? Otherwise, perhaps they just felt that after one piece had already passed them, others were likely to follow, motivating the emergency readyness.

    • by agentgonzo ( 1026204 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @03:32AM (#36608454)
      NORAD tracks as much space objects and debris as it can. There's a lot of stuff up there and it's constantly changing orbits in a slightly unpredictable way due to variable drag from the atmosphere. This object (NORAD designator 82618) has a drag coefficient 175 times greater than that of the ISS so it was hard to predict in advance that it would be that close. The ISS crew got notice a little over two hours before the encounter at about 2200 GMT (UTC) last night and it cleared the ISS at 0008GMT this morning.
      • Thanks for the info. Do you happen to know the relative velocity between the two in this near-miss?

        • Unfortunately not. I can't find any data on the subject or TLEs (NORAD's Two Line Elements that describe the orbit) for the debris.
        • by strack ( 1051390 )
          you can be pretty much guranteed its enough.
        • Orbital speeds (as opposed to velocities) are the same for the same shaped-orbits (which LEO ones pretty much are) so the only variable is direction of motion. Relative velocities can be anywhere from a few feet per second (if the orbits are almost exactly aligned) to a theoretical maximum of about 15,000m/s if the were in a head-on collision (unlikely). I'd guess that it was somewhere in the region of 3-10km/s relative velocity.

          For reference, the collision of Iridium 33 and Kosmos-2251 [wikipedia.org] in 2009 was at a
          • Thanks. I understand that their "speed" will be similar, especially in LEO, but there's still a huge possible range in angle of attack, which would make a huge difference in the energy of an impact. I'm just curious what order of magnitude we're dealing with here. Are the two meeting at 500kph or 50,000kph? How big is this debris object... 0.5g or 500g?

            If I were on the ISS at the time, I would be asking these questions.

        • Well the ISS at least was going 27,724kph (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Space_Station [wikipedia.org]). It's mass is over 400 metric tons. So if the object was stationary, using mv^2/2, we're looking at 153724035200000 joules. This could go up or go down based on the speed and vector of the other body. Slashdot nerds, please tear apart my math. I'm doing this on the fly so I probably made a mistake.
      • I don't see how NORAD has time to track everything, but at least they're damn good at finding that fat man in a red suit every December 24th.

    • I wouldn't be surprised if the ISS detected it on their own radar. I would have a pretty doppler signature.

  • Origin? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Macrat ( 638047 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @02:53AM (#36608318)

    An analysis was now underway to try to understand its origin.

    A small planet called Krypton.

  • Debris From Satellites' Collision Said to Pose Small Risk to Space Station [washingtonpost.com]

    It seems like the risk isn't that small after all.

    • by RoboRay ( 735839 )

      The term "risk" is generally considered to include not only severity of an incident but also it's probability. In the case of an on-orbit collision, while the severity of an impact can be extremely high, the probability of it actually occurring is vanishingly low.

      Of course, there's no reason to take chances with life-or-death situations, so risk-management policies in place require the crew to take shelter when objects do come near the station.

  • by niftydude ( 1745144 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @03:42AM (#36608504)
    But how is just over one third of a kilometer considered a near miss?
    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

      But how is just over one third of a kilometer considered a near miss?

      Near miss? Good God... TF title says "clobbered" - I thought many pieces of debris battered ISS for long hours.

    • by NoZart ( 961808 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @04:42AM (#36608744)

      Exactly! It should be called a near hit!!!!! (George Carlin)

    • The ISS is slightly larger than a full-sized football field. So 335 meters is only about 3 time the length of the ISS lengths away.
    • by Bengie ( 1121981 ) on Wednesday June 29, 2011 @06:43AM (#36609266)

      In the vastness of our skies, two airplanes coming within a mile of each other is close. Now imagine being ~170mi above the Earth.

      On the Discovery Channel, they showed a picture of what a 1/2 inch flake of paint can do at those speeds. It left a 3 inch crater about 1/4 deep in the aluminum wing of the Shuttle.

      Wiki has a nice pic of what a 7gram object can do: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SDIO_KEW_Lexan_projectile.jpg [wikipedia.org]

      • I'm sorry, something about "General Motors" and "Weapons Testing Facility" just doesn't make me warm and fuzzy inside.
        I can see the similarities though... the only thing their cars are good for are going fast in a straight line, and crashing.

        • Sorry, mis-quoted wiki... in any case, weapons are being tested at General Motors (?).

          • by fotbr ( 855184 )

            Depending on what they needed for test equipment and room to work, it might have fit the needs without needing to make a more expensive trip out to the desert somewhere.

            Also, I think I want one of those "light gas guns" and a supply of those lexan projectiles. It looks like it would make short work of the occasional wannabe thugmobile that "cruises" the neighborhood to wake people up at 3 am with really crappy bass.

            • I always love it when you hear the bass kicking immediately followed by the rattle of their license plate. It makes me laugh at the stupidity of it.

        • the only thing their cars are good for are going fast in a straight line, and crashing.

          That's not entirely true. The Corvette is also good for turning, stopping, treating midlife crises, and making gas, brakes and tires disappear in the blink of an eye :-P

    • But how is just over one third of a kilometer considered a near miss?

      Because space junk is hard to detect, which makes it hard to predict its path. In other words, the debris was within their margins of error. That's why they thought it was prudent to put the astronauts into their escape pods.

      That said, you're not wrong that the headline was sensationalist. Even NASA said this was never an emergency in their books. Just a precaution.

    • by Dr La ( 1342733 )
      Remember that we are talking about stuff that moves at 7.5 km per second. With a fraction of a second uncertainty in the orbit, those 335 meter could have been reduced to zero meter. Assuming the 335 meter was right in the fligthpath of ISS rather than above or under it, 335 meter represents a difference of 0.04 seconds in time....
    • by sootman ( 158191 )

      I wouldn't have said 1/3 km, I would have said "about 350 meters or 1100 feet." Sounds a lot closer.

  • ...without getting clobbered by space debris, or more accurately, our own space junk.

    Statistics I had heard years ago spoke of some 8,000 objects that NORAD tracks in our orbit. I'm certain that number has grown significantly since then, but I wonder how much of that we have been responsible for putting up there? Seems our habits in space tend to mirror our (bad) habits on earth.

  • Where is the offense and defense?
    • Couldn't the Daedalus have just moved in-between and caught the projectile in their shields? What do we fund SG1 for if not to protect space?

  • Am I to believe that "outer space" is not the current front-runner in the list of possibilities?
  • I hope I'm not the only one that read that and thought "Escape capsules? Oh, that is awesome!" Please tell me there's video. Are they all acting calmly and reasonably as expected, or is one of them going "Game over, man! GAME OVER!"?

    Yes, I'm glad they weren't actually hit. But in a world where we have PEOPLE! IN! SPACE! and 99.9999% of the population doesn't know their names (me included), a little drama once in awhile isn't such a bad thing.

  • It's time they add lasers to the ISS, to shoot away that kind of stuff.

    • It's time they add lasers to the ISS, to shoot away that kind of stuff.

      For the thousandth time, sharks don't do well in space.

      • by Pope ( 17780 )
        Then we clearly need to develop space sharks! C'mon, America, where's that can-do spirit?!
    • Let's try a laser experiment. Have someone chuck a baseball at you head as hard as they can. Now, point a flashlight beam at it to deflect it. Once your head quits ringing, consider that space rocks travel a lot faster than baseballs, and a laser would have to be very powerful and very accurate to deflect it while it is within its range.

      Take the most powerful laser pointer you can get, and try to move a small ball bearing with its light. Use several pointers if necessary. How many watts would it take to def

  • Once Bigelow builds their space station, it will be above most of this. That will help a lot of things, though you still have to travel up there.
  • [NASA's] Associate Administrator for Space Operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, said it was the closest a debris object had ever come to the station. An analysis was now underway to try to understand its origin, he added.

    My understanding is that the station mostly originated in the US and Russia, with help from about sixteen other countries. NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Operations should really know this, or at least be able to look this up on Wikipedia.

  • I find it very hard to believe that the ISS has not been hit by micro-sized debris considering one of the shuttles has and various low-earth satellites have also. I suspect that it has plenty of small craters...
  • So how long will it be before some pariah-state with primitive space capability, in yet another fit of childish Beloved Leader temper-tantrum-class behavior, launches a canister of one-inch aluminum bearings into crowded orbits to create orbital minefields to destroy satellites and otherwise be a pain in the ass?

    Yes, that would be without question an act of war, just like mining sea lanes in international waters would be. Does anyone think that would stop a Beloved Leader from doing it if he could use the

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson