back to article ISS dodges space junk from satellite Russia blew up

NASA says the International Space Station (ISS) this week transitioned to a higher orbit to dodge debris from a Russian satellite. The agency spotted the junk and calculated it would fly within three miles of the ISS, a proximity that was too close for comfort. The space station's ground team fired up the thrusters on Progress …

  1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    RE: Roscosmos has said it will have something ready by 2028.

    They are saving up and when sanctions are over they will put this together.

    1. TimMaher Silver badge

      Re: RE: Roscosmos has said it will have something ready by 2028.

      They can afford nearly sixty quid?

    2. Dizzy Dwarf

      Re: RE: Roscosmos has said it will have something ready by 2028.

      Nice how that says "Retiring soon"

  2. Volisios

    No matter what area of the political spectrum you support, introducing an unnecessary extra cloud of supersonic shrapnel into near-earth orbit has got to be a pretty dumb-ass thing to do... one can only hope it comes back to bite future projects of those responsible, rather than any other spacefarers who happen to encounter it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Like if the Russians aren't busy enough reminding us what a bunch of grotesque fuckwits the are on the ground every single day, we are having to deal with the results in space too.

  3. Luggagethecat

    Hello Garbage Scowl!

    Seriously why isn’t NASA teaming with private enterprise to build a space tug that can capture this junk and re- use or de-orbit?

    It would assume energy requirements to be alot lower launching a tug from the iss than launching one from the surface ……

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Hello Garbage Scowl!

      You’d have to match orbits with the debris to capture it, using lots of fuel. Then burn even more to slow it down to de-orbit it. Rinse and repeat. Getting that fuel into orbit is incredibly expensive, in a process that itself burns loads of fuel.

      If we keep lowering the costs of getting to orbit, this might move from impossible to just expensive and difficult. Finding a source of fuel in space, so we don’t have to keep boosting stuff up there, would solve many problems. Because then we could also land without having to do atmospheric braking, so we wouldn’t have to spend precious launch fuel to lift heat shielding into orbit either.

      1. ArrZarr Silver badge

        Re: Hello Garbage Scowl!

        Reminds me of the Heinlein quote "If you can get your ship into orbit, you're halfway to anywhere."

        Gravity wells are the biggest curse and the biggest blessing of our current spaceflight technology level.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Why isn't NASA ...

      1) Money. They have some budget to research the most cost effective methods but not to actually do anything.

      2) Law. Touching other people's stuff in orbit is naughty. If it beaks up as a result and the bits hit something it becomes NASA's legal responsibility.

      Launching a tug from the ISS could be cheaper than launching from the ground if the tug was already at the ISS and the destination orbit was similar to the ISS. In real life, there is no tug at the ISS and getting it to the required orbit directly from the ground would be easier than going to the ISS first. Once the tug has done the tugging it is in a good orbit for burning up in the earth's atmosphere. Any other space junk in the same orbit would burn up without any help from the tug. Getting to another lump of junk would require a large amount of propellant - which would have to come from Earth. It would be simpler to send another tug from Earth than to send propellant to the existing tug in the wrong orbit then change to the required new orbit.

      Given some budget and minimal constraints on how to spend it I am sure NASA could come up with something useful. I am less confident in politicians renegotiating the required international treaties.

    3. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: Hello Garbage Scowl!

      NASA is doing its best to go figure.

      Any fuel burned in matching orbits still has to be got up to the ISS in the first place, so the advantages of operating from there are not large.

      Nets and things smash into the junk and break it up into tinier pieces - but the bit that misses snaps off and becomes junk in itself.

      Maybe we should persuade ksuM nolE to repurpose his loss-making Starlink as Starjunk, so there's always a matched-orbit garbage truck passing by. Then he can claim salvage on everything he captures.

    4. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Hello Garbage Scowl!

      The misadventures of an outer space garbage collector and his crew. The original Quark!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Hello Garbage Scowl!

        Well played!. I was going to suggest Salvage 1, but Quark predates even Salvage 1 by a couple of years :-)

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Hello Garbage Scowl!

          Surely a job for space Wombles!

    5. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: Hello Garbage Scowl!

      I'm sure this has been thought of by somebody much better versed in the science, but if you could get something with the right angles, then you wouldn't need a net, just a snowplough that bounces the stuff it hits down towards earth.

      Put it in an orbit with a different apogee so it clears a different bit of the target orbit at a specific point.

      Mass (and therefore fuel) will still be your enemy though. To "win" against the debris hitting it, it'll need huge reaction wheels or to just be massive enough without any clever trickery. You could play with the shield angle too, but to give the debris enough of a downwards shove, you'd need to increase the relative velocities as the shield angle is reduced and so you'll still need the satellite to be sturdy to resist the shocks.

      There'll be a sweet-spot on shield angle vs relative velocity and you could play with the rigidity of the shield. Adding flexibility would give similar delta-V but induce less shock on the spaceplow. Trade off would be on the structual integrity of the shield over long periods (you spent a lot of fuel getting a heavy spacecraft up - it's gotta last a long time).

    6. myhandler

      Re: Hello Garbage Scowl!

      Most of it is tiny particles, like paint flecks. Can still punch a hole in a space station

    7. Jim Birch

      Re: Hello Garbage Scowl!

      This is like catching bullets travelling at 10 or 20 km per second, in different directions, separated by hundreds of km.

  4. Shalghar Bronze badge

    Now wasnt there some reagan-esque starwars stuff ?

    Anyone remember SDI ? Isnt it depressing that those ideas from the Reagan era are still not real ?

    Ok we didnt get flying cars but LASER rifles ? Come on, even James Bond had some in Moonraker...

    Jokes aside, i would suggest a stickynet or sticky balls substance to clump the debris togeter while also increasing its weight. If the space debris is too dangerous, clump gun it, fire a remote controlled rocket engine or blast device with small effect (not to destroy but to alter velocity) in the glued up mess and shove it downwards.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Now wasnt there some reagan-esque starwars stuff ?

      The SDI equipment was supposed to have satellites in orbit to destroy stuff that wasn't in orbit, not the other way around. We have the technology to fire a laser at the junk from down here, but leaving issues of power and targeting aside, what's the advantage of doing that? It's likely to just split up the junk into smaller and more plentiful junk in approximately the same place, which doesn't really do a lot. The SDI suggestions were just trying to break missiles or change their trajectory, not induce the precision control necessary to redirect them, but that precision is more important when dealing with space junk.

      The sticky material suggestion won't be feasible either. The junk isn't in one compact place. You'd need a truly massive glue ball to envelop even a few pieces of it. If you have a substance that acts as an adhesive and is really light, you could use it to change the orbit of individual pieces, but not to collect all of them (and getting that material near the piece would require a lot of fuel from the controlling satellite).

      1. Shalghar Bronze badge

        Re: Now wasnt there some reagan-esque starwars stuff ?

        I was actually thinking of threads/nets instead of glue balls. Even a spray of dirty water might work, if it clings to the target and increases its weight. SDI (had it ever worked) would need some adjustments but we are not talking full orbital cleanup effort. To protect the space station, some deflector satellites would be enough. LASER or MASER for small stuff, glue net or adhesive micro jets for bigger junk. Of course destruction will not be possible for most of the space junk but decreasing the speed of the junk will let gravity take the trash down.

        Really with all those intermittent "too much junk in orbit" news snippets that keep coming up every now and then for at least the last decade, its a bit depressing that noone developed any space trash deflector system or similar things.

        Maybe its because in contrast to SDI, it would have to work and not only one country would benefit from its effects. Plus its not a weapon so the desire to waste money is somewhat hampered.

    2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      Re: Now wasnt there some reagan-esque starwars stuff ?

      Using lasers on space debris isn't a bad idea. Light has the ability to push (otherwise solar sails couldn't work) so there's no reason a laser couldn't be mounted on a satellite to deal with debris. It wouldn't need to fry it, but just slow it down enough to fall from orbit. I wouldn't try speeding it up though, as it might hit solar orbit and be a nasty surprise a year later. A large satellite wouldn't be nearly as affected as a small particle so the inverse reaction against the satellite wouldn't really affect its orbit and of course the satty's orbit can be adjusted. It might not take out the big pieces but it might deal with the much larger number of small ones.

  5. Russell Chapman Esq.

    Two ways this can go

    The Kremlin is already prepared to isolate Russia from rest of the world, so destroying satellites will also take out Russian resources with the space debris. Or, it could be a bluff. But, I would not be surprised if the Kremlin is prepared to lose resources.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Two ways this can go

      The Russian space program has a limited life span. Even without sanctions it would die of neglect and any attempt to modernise dies of corruption. When Russia can no longer benefit from space they will threaten to blow stuff up until there is so much junk that nothing survives in orbit long enough to make a profit. They might hope to extort concessions but they would get nothing from the US and far worse from China.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Two ways this can go

        Rogozin did such a great job at Roscosmos that he’s been sacked promoted to being in charge of the newly annexed regions of Ukraine. I hope he got good personal security…. Or if he’s lucky, Ukraine will re-capture his new imperial province before he has to go there too often.

  6. Death Boffin

    Political Problem

    There is a relatively cheap way of deorbiting these debris. It involves a high power ground based laser. The problem is that it is also a first class anti satellite weapon. It could even take down a Musk sized satellite constellation. The first one built will ignite an arms race.

    1. Sanguma

      Re: Political Problem

      Which is why I keep harping on about adapting the maritime salvage legal regime to Earth Orbit. It's strictly commercial, non-military, and just works.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like