Roulette of the space station

Astronauts on the space station have to be "high risk" people. They volunteer to fly from Earth to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian launch vehicle that has a less than stellar safety record. Once they are aboard the ISS they are exposed to high levels of radiation, weightlessness and the harsh vacuum of space. In fact, they are at the mercy of the elements during the flight without the possibility of a rescue in case of a serious emergency.

In some extreme situations, if there is time, you can use your re-entry and return. capsule to escape. There are some scenarios in which this works, but there are some events that happen so fast that there is no time to react.

Of greatest concern is the collision with a large debris object whose orbital path can not be accurately predicted with the current satellite tracking capabilities. There are several examples of large and expired rocket bodies and satellites whizzing through the station that are not detected until after the event or that are detected too late to maneuver the ISS.

For example, on July 16, 2015, an old Russian weather satellite was made a nearby pbad from the ISS. The warnings arrived too late for the station to execute an evasion maneuver. NASA gave the crew only 90 minutes to close the station and get safe, on the Soyuz spacecraft, isolating itself from the rest of the vehicle. This was the fourth incident of its kind, to date, in the 17-year history of the ISS.

Four of these incidents in 17 years do not sound alarming, but there have been many more incidents of near accidents with small debris and large objects that were not tracked in time to warn the station. Here is the reality of the situation.

Several hundred undetected and dangerous objects pbad through the orbital route of the station each year. Each object in a decomposing orbit crosses this path as it descends into the atmosphere and burns. In fact, a thorough examination of the ISS will reveal collisions with small waste items.

While it is true that no large object has hit the station, such an event could occur at any time. You could say that the station and the crew have been lucky, because the statistical probability of this happening has been small. As more and more satellites are launched, this probability increases.

Even today, there are no less than 144 bodies of expired rockets that, on average, cross the altitude of the station every 5.3 hours. The relative closing speeds can be at least 6,000 MPH. These rocket bodies, the size of small school buses, are remnants of the geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) stages that were used to propel large satellites into their final orbits, approximately 22,400 miles above the Earth.

The exact routes of these The expired stages are very difficult to predict because their orbits change continuously in unpredictable ways. As they pbad through the perigee, approximately every 10 hours, the pbadage of the upper atmosphere tends to slow them down. This decomposition of energy results in significant and unpredictable trajectory changes.

In conclusion, dealing with space debris is a big problem for the ISS. Yes, it can withstand small debris impacts. Given several hours to maneuver, the station can avoid larger objects. However, a vehicle roughly the size of a football field can not respond quickly or correctly.

Although the ISS is scheduled to retire within 10 years, there will be other space stations that will be exposed to the same situation. The good news is that this threat can be reduced, but it will require improved and expanded satellite tracking capabilities.

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Possible release date of the Nauka module of Russia for ISS

Baikonur, Kazakhstan (Sputnik) June 13, 2018

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Meanwhile, the launch of Russia's MLM Nauka to the ISS can be postponed until 2020 from 2 … read more

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