A piece of space junk from a Russian anti-satellite weapons test forced the International Space Station to maneuver Thursday (June 16) to avoid the orbital debris.
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos used a Progress 81 unmanned cargo ship docked with the International Space Station to clear the orbiting laboratory of a piece of space debris from Russia’s Cosmos 1408 satellite and shared video of the activity (opens in new tab) on the social media service Telegram. Russia destroyed the defunct Soviet-era satellite in an anti-satellite missile test in November 2021.
“I confirm that at 10:03 p.m. Moscow time, the engines of the Russian cargo ship Progress MS-20 performed an unscheduled maneuver to avoid a dangerous approach of the International Space Station with a fragment of the Kosmos-1408 spacecraft,” said Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Telegram (opens in new tab)according to a Google translation, using Roscosmos’ name for Progress 81.
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At 19:03 UTS, #ProgressMS20 performed an unplanned engine fire to avoid space debris caused by #Kosmos1408. Here is a video from Roscosmos: https://t.co/WvH1SCPC9c pic.twitter.com/yHPymtzqgmJune 16, 2022
The Progress 81 cargo ship fired its engines for 4 minutes and 34 seconds to move the massive space station off the trajectory of the fragment of Cosmos-1408 and slightly raise the station’s orbit.
“The crew was never in danger and the maneuver had no impact on station operations,” NASA officials wrote in an update (opens in new tab). “Without the maneuver, it was predicted that the fragment could have been within about half a mile of the station.”
Cosmos 1408 was a Soviet Tselina-D satellite focused on electronic and signals intelligence that was launched in 1982 from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome, according to a NASA report (opens in new tab).
On November 15, 2021, the satellite (which was no longer operational) was intentionally destroyed by Russia in an anti-satellite missile test, which created an estimated 1,500 pieces of orbital debris. Astronauts on the space station were forced to take shelter on Nov. 15 over concerns about this debris, which could pose a threat to the space station and other spacecraft for years to come, experts said.