International Space Station forced to swerve away from errant spacecraft debris

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The International Space Station was forced to pull away from a stray piece of spacecraft early Friday.

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According to the head of Russia’s space agency, the floating lab had to scuttle to avoid a fragment of the American launch vehicle.

It is the latest in a series of alarming incidents in which astronauts have been forced to take measures to protect themselves from so-called space junk.


Calls for the monitoring and regulation of space debris, or space junk, have grown since Russia conducted an anti-satellite missile test last month. It generated a debris field in orbit that US officials said would threaten space activities for years.

The head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, said Friday that the ISS was forced to move because of space junk from a US launch vehicle sent into orbit in 1994.

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Roscosmos said the station’s orbit, in an unscheduled maneuver performed by mission control, dropped 310 meters (339 yards) for about three minutes to avoid a close encounter.

Rogozin said the maneuver would not affect the planned launch of the Soyuz MS-20 rocket on December 8 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and its docking to the ISS.

Space debris is parts of a launch vehicle or spacecraft left behind that float in space and are at risk of colliding with satellites or the ISS.

In an opinion piece published Thursday in the Financial Times, former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogg Rasmussen said the destruction of Russia’s satellite last month risked turning space into a junk yard.

“Unless we change course, the opportunities for space to improve our lives on Earth may be closed for generations,” he wrote.

Space debris also forced NASA on Tuesday to postpone a spacewalk on the ISS to replace a faulty antenna. Last month, the ISS conducted a brief maneuver to dodge a piece of a dormant Chinese satellite.

In separate remarks Friday, Roscosmos said it expects NASA chief Bill Nelson to visit Russia in the first half of 2022 to discuss further cooperation on the ISS.

Additional reporting by Reuters


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