Feeds

Supply ships used to push ISS clear of sat-smash debris

2009 Russian wipeout of Iridium bird still causing snags

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

The International Space Station was given a shove by supply ships docked to it over the weekend in order to evade a cloud of high-velocity orbital shrapnel created when a Russian military satellite crashed into an Iridium comsat in 2009.

Aviation Week reports that astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the station fired three different thruster systems late on Friday night. Without this manoeuvre, according to US space tracking, debris generated by the collision above Siberia just over two years ago would have passed within 6.5 miles of the station.

The main shove for the shrapnel dodge came from the European Space Agency's ATV-2 robo supply capsule, docked at the station. The ISS' Russian service module also fired thrusters to provide pitch and yaw control during the burn, and roll control was provided by the thrusters of the Russian Progress supply capsule, also docked at the station.

The collision in 2009 saw Cosmos 2251 – a defunct military communications satellite launched in 1993 – crash into an up-and-running Iridium bird above northern Russia. The Iridium constellation was originally intended to be the world's first global mobile phone network, but as things turned out international GSM roaming beat it to the punch.

Iridium went bankrupt, but was then reborn with US government backing: it remains one of the few solutions offering truly worldwide voice and data (albeit very limited bandwidth) without requiring a cumbersome directional dish. As such it is often used in military and intelligence applications – for instance certain kinds of tracking bugs, communications with submerged submarines etc etc – perhaps offering a clue as to why the US authorities were keen to see it saved.

The 2009 collision was thought to result in only brief, local network outages for the Iridium system and full coverage was restored swiftly. The resulting wreckage pushed up overall space debris levels in near-Earth space by around 3 per cent. Initially the debris cloud was not dangerous to the ISS, but as time has gone by some of the fragments have descended to the same orbital level as the station.

Following the satellite crash, conspiracy theories circulated widely to the effect that Russia might have taken the Iridium satellite out on purpose – perhaps in order to prevent a particular satphone call/tracking bug report/submarine "page" etc from getting through.

Regardless of such considerations, debris is a growing threat to all space operations. At the moment most countries rely on the US military Space Surveillance Network to monitor the situation, but the ESA has aspirations towards a system of its own in future. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
ANU boffins demo 'tractor beam' in water
The current state of the art, apparently
China to test recoverable moon orbiter
I'll have some rocks and a moon cheese pizza please, home delivery
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.