Space Junk Hits International Space Station

( During a routine inspection in mid-May, the Canadian Space Agency discovered that the robotic arm on the International Space Station had sustained damage after it was struck by a piece of orbital debris. The arm’s protective thermal covering sustained a puncture, but the robotic arm itself remained functional.

Currently experts from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and NASA are taking detailed images of the area to assess the impact of the strike that occurred on one of the Canadarm2’s boom segments.

According to the CSA, the collision will not impact Canadarm2’s ability to conduct its planned operations.

But the collision does highlight the threat from orbital debris especially now that the narrow band of space has become more crowded with telecommunication satellites, GPS, and the like. Couple that with the accumulating “space junk” left behind by humans, it’s getting crowded up there.

Currently, the Defense Department tracks more than 27,000 pieces of space junk – most of it no larger than a softball. However, small as they might be, these pieces of debris fly at a rate of over 18,000 miles per hour – putting at risk any functioning spacecraft, not to mention the lives of the astronauts on board the Space Station.

In fact, damage from orbital debris and space rocks is one of the principle threats to the International Space Station’s continuing operations.

In total, NASA has had to conduct 26 special maneuvers to avoid orbital debris.

In April, the 4-astronaut crew aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on their way to the International Space Station received a possible collision warning shortly after they reached orbit. This collision warning, it turned out, was a false alarm.

Last November, NASA instructed three astronauts aboard the Space Station to take shelter as controllers maneuvered the station away from a potential collision with a piece of debris. The “maneuver burn” was accomplished by firing the thrusters on a Russian Progress cargo spacecraft docked to one of the labs aboard the station.