Russian engineers will today fire engines on a Progress freighter docked to ISS to guarantee that a piece of debris left over from a 2007 Chinese military anti-satellite test does not hit the station.
The object the space station will dodge is called 35114 in NASA’s catalog of space objects, and is also identified at 1999-025DKS, a piece of debris from a Chinese anti-satellite weapons test in 2007. Originally part of a Chinese weather satellite, the debris resulted from an in-orbit missile test performed by China. As part of that test, a kinetic-energy, suborbital missile was fired at a defunct Chinese weather satellite called Fengyun-1C (which stopped working in 2002), obliterating it into thousands of pieces.
The destroyed satellite was originally in a much higher orbit, but atmospheric drag has pulled the debris closer to Earth over the years and ultimately into the flight path of the space station. The two objects’ closest approach is estimated to occur on Nov. 12, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at Harvard who tracks and catalogs objects in space. McDowell tweeted on Tuesday that his calculations show that this will be the 29th space station debris avoidance maneuver, and the third related to the 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test.
The maneuver will take place prior to the arrival of Endurance, carrying four astronauts.
While the anti-sat test initially produced about 3,500 pieces of debris, that number has dropped in the past fourteen years to about 2,700 pieces as the orbits of these objects slowly decay. The test was also another example of China’s willingness to break the Outer Space Treaty. As a signatory China is required to control every object it puts into orbit in order to prevent collisions. Instead, it performed a military test that created debris in the thousands, in orbits that threaten ISS.
We shall get another demonstration of China’s contempt for treaties in the next few months, when it launches two more large modules to its space station and the large core stage of the rocket comes crashing down somewhere on Earth, out of control.
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