Tag Archives: space junk

Satellite hit by space junk, still operational

A private Earth-observation satellite, WorldView-2, was either hit by space junk or had some internal failure that produced “8 debris pieces” in its vicinity.

The Joint Space Operations Center, which is the Defense Department’s nerve center for space operations and tracks space objects from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, tweeted July 19 that it had identified a debris-causing event related DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-2 satellite.

The amazing thing about this is that the satellite is still functional, and to prove it the company has already released an image produced after the event.

European experimental space junk removal mission to launch

The competition heats up: A European Space Agency mission to test technologies for removing space junk will launch sometime next year.

Presented at the Royal Society’s summer science exhibition this week, and led by the Surrey Space Centre, the systems included a net, harpoon and drag sail, which scientists have incorporated into a test platform for launch into space. The platform will also carry “artificial junk” in the form of small satellites known as CubeSats.

Once the platform is launched into space, a CubeSat will be released. “The CubeSat will be ejected from the platform and then we’ll fire the net at it,” said Forshaw. The CubeSat, hopefully encased in the net, will then fall back towards Earth and burn up. In the case of the harpoon, the researchers have attached a target made of spacecraft material to a carbon-fibre boom that extends from the platform. “When the harpoon impacts it, it is actually going to simulate a real spacecraft being hit,” said Forshaw.

At the end of the mission the third system, a drag sail will be deployed. Attached to the platform, the sail will speed up its return to Earth where it will burn up in the atmosphere. Similar systems have been proposed for future satellites to allow them to be disposed of without leaving space junk.

With the Chinese, NASA, and private companies all developing robotic missions to either clean up space junk or repair satellites, the competition to do this work is going to get very intense in the next decade.

Europe develops net gun to capture space junk

The competition heats up: A Polish company has developed a gun for firing a net to capture space junk, and has demonstrated its operation by capturing a flying drone at a space junk conference.

There is a video at the link showing the capture. They have also tested this technology on a vomit comet, and hope to launch a full scale model by 2023.

That space junk was from Lunar Prospector

A research team at JPL has concluded that the unidentified piece of space junk that had been in lunar space but crashed to Earth in November was likely the engine module used by the 1998 Lunar Prospector mission.

The junk’s identity is by no means certain, but the “leading candidate” is the translunar injection module of Lunar Prospector, says Paul Chodas, an asteroid tracker at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The module nudged the probe out of Earth orbit and then detached from the main spacecraft, which orbited the Moon for 19 months before it was deliberately slammed into the lunar south pole in July 1999.

Speculation about the source of the debris, known as WT1190F, ran rampant even before it plummeted through the atmosphere on 13 November. The only artificial object to make an uncontrolled re-entry at a precisely predicted place and moment, it presented a unique chance to witness such an event in real time. Researchers took advantage of the opportunity, monitoring the debris from a chartered jet as well as from ground-based observatories.

Mysterious piece of space junk burns up over Indian Ocean

Though scientists have not yet identified it, the piece of space junk discovered last month in an unusual orbit with a predictable moment of decay has burned up over the Indian Ocean,

Estimated to measure 1–2 metres across, WT1190F had circled the Earth–Moon system since at least 2009, says independent astronomy-software developer Bill Gray, who has been working with NASA to track the debris. It most likely came off a recent lunar spacecraft, but it is not out of the question that it could have dated to the Apollo era.

In at least one case, scientists were able to image the object as it burned up. The data from this will allow them to determine its chemical composition, which in turn might help them identify it.

Mysterious piece of space junk to hit Earth

A piece of unidentified space junk, discovered in a long elliptical orbit going out far beyond the Moon, has been calculated to hit the Earth over the Indian Ocean on November 13.

WT1190F was detected by the Catalina Sky Survey, a program aimed at discovering asteroids and comets that swing close to Earth. At first scientists didn’t know what to make of this weird body. But they quickly computed its trajectory, after collecting more observations and unearthing 2012 and 2013 sightings from telescope archives, says independent astronomy software developer Bill Gray, who has been working to track the debris with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

WT1190F travels a highly elliptical orbit, swinging out twice as far as the Earth-Moon distance, Gray says. Gray’s calculations show that it will hit the Earth at 6:20 UTC, falling about 65 kilometres off the southern tip of Sri Lanka. Much if not all of it will burn up in the atmosphere, but “I would not necessarily want to be going fishing directly underneath it,” Gray says.

What makes the object interesting is that they don’t know when it was launched or how it got in the orbit it is in. It could even be something from the Apollo lunar missions.

Soyuz capsule maneuvers to avoid space junk

The manned Soyuz capsule bringing three astronauts to ISS was forced to make a maneuver this morning to avoid a collision with a fragment from a Japanese rocket launched in 1989.

While space junk is an increasing problem, for a object to threaten a manned capsule making maneuvers in low Earth orbit is extremely rare. It appears from the story however that U.S. and Russian trackers thought there was a very good chance of an actual collision and took action to avoid it.

Rocket tank lands on Brazil farm

Chicken Little report: A propellent tank from an as-yet unidentified rocket landed near a house on a Brazilian farm on December 28.

The pictures at the link are neat, especially since the man in the selfie showing the farmer’s family and the tank in the background looks so much like New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Were two Iridium satellites hit by space junk?

Engineers are puzzling over the release of debris from two separate Iridium satellites last year, with each even suggesting the satellites were hit by very small pieces of space junk.

The U.S. Joint Space Operations Center detected 10 pieces of debris from the Iridium 47 satellite June 7, 2014. Some of the objects flew away from Iridium 47 at up to 80 meters per second — nearly 180 mph — into orbits almost 200 miles above the satellite, suggesting an explosion or collision triggered their creation. Another Iridium spacecraft — Iridium 91 — produced four debris fragments Nov. 30, according to U.S. military tracking data. “In contrast to the previous Iridium breakup, however, these pieces were produced with minimal delta velocity and remained in the vicinity to the parent spacecraft for some time,” NASA officials wrote.

In both cases, the satellites showed no signs of a breakup and remain operational, according to Iridium Communications, a Virginia-based company that uses a fleet of spacecraft nearly 500 miles above Earth for mobile voice and data services.

Space junk damages ISS coolant radiator?

According to the Russian Interfax news agency, a piece of space junk has hit a coolant radiator on the U.S. portion of ISS.

The source says that no coolant has escaped from the system and that NASA engineers are analyzing images to assess the damage.

Readers should be aware that I have tried without success to find the NASA website the story claims is the source for this information. Moreover, this story is reported nowhere in the U.S. press, and it is strange for a NASA website to report something like this and it not be quickly picked up by the U.S. press.

Thus, I am not entirely convinced yet that this story is accurate.

Update: a commenter below has provided this link to a subsequent post at nasaspaceflight about the impact.

The U.S. military has awarded Lockheed Martin the contract to build the next generation radar system that will be used to track objects in orbit.

The U.S. military has awarded Lockheed Martin the contract to build the next generation radar system that will be used to track objects in orbit.

While the military needs this specifically for surveillance and to track the orbiting spacecraft of other countries, it is also the system that everyone in the world uses to identify orbiting space junk, including small objects like lost tools.

An unmanned spacecraft designed to get rid of space junk is set to launch in 2018, and use a new European built reusable launch system.

The competition heats up: An unmanned spacecraft designed to get rid of space junk is set to launch in 2018, and use a new European built reusable launch system.

Both components of this story are significant. First, a company has gotten the necessary financing to build the spacecraft, proving that there is profit to be made in the removal of space junk. Second, the launch system is simple and reusable, and will lower the cost of getting small payloads into orbit significantly. And it appears it is being built.

NASA revealed Tuesday that last April the Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope barely avoided a collision with an abandoned Russian satellite.

NASA revealed Tuesday that last April the Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope barely avoided a collision with an abandoned Russian satellite.

Fermi mission scientists first learned of the space collision threat on March 29, 2012 when they received a notice that the space telescope and Cosmos 1805 would miss each other by just 700 feet (213.4 meters). The mission team monitored the situation over the next day and it became clear that the two spacecraft, traveling in different orbits, would zip through the same point in space within 30 milliseconds of one another, NASA officials said.

They used Fermi’s thrusters to shift its orbit enough so the two spacecraft missed each other by 6 miles.

Last night a piece of space junk missed ISS, but not by much.

Last night a piece of space junk missed ISS, but not by much.

The debris was only 8.7 miles from the station when it zipped by at about 16,000 miles per hour. That is very close, and had it hit, it would have done very significant damage.

The fragment was from an old Russian satellite, Cosmos 2251, that collided with an Iridium satellite in 2009, producing hundreds of fragments more than two inches across.

A prototype of the new space junk radar system has successfully demonstrated it can track objects smaller than an inch across.

A prototype of a new space junk radar system has successfully demonstrated it can track objects smaller than an inch across.

This resolution is considered ten times better than previous designs. The cost to build the fully operational system is estimated to be $3.5 billion.

I wonder where we will get the money.

Why things break in space

Updated and bumped: I will be discussing this story on the the John Batchelor Show tonight, February 17, Friday, 12:50 am (Eastern), and then re-aired on Sunday, February 19, 12:50 am (Eastern).
Someday, humans will be traveling far from Earth in large interplanetary spaceships not very different than the International Space Station (ISS). Isolated and dependent on these ships for survival, these travelers will have no choice but to know how to maintain and repair their vessels whenever something on them should break.

And things will break. Entropy rules, and with time all things deteriorate and fail.

Each failure, however, is also a precious opportunity to learn something about the environment of space. Why did an item break? What caused it to fail? Can we do something to prevent the failure in the future? Finding answers to these questions will make it possible to build better and more reliable interplanetary spaceships.

ISS is presently our only testbed for studying these kinds of engineering questions. And in 2007, a spectacular failure, combined with an epic spacewalk, gave engineers at the Johnson Space Center a marvelous opportunity to study these very issues.
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