Feeds

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

2009 Russian wipeout of Iridium bird still causing snags

Seven Steps to Software Security

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. ®

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
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.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.