Image by David Arap Tabor via Reuters
Cosmonauts have been instructed to move about outside the International Space Station in a protective, low-altitude shelter after debris from the latest test of a Russian anti-satellite weapon, in February, came in contact with their ship.
The removal of the debris blocked the space station’s power source as Russian astronauts were on-board using backup systems to test emergency procedures.
The cosmonauts used the emergency generator to power the Russian investigation of the debris, which were carried out in shifts, according to Russia’s RIA news agency. The Russians restarted their power supply just before their turn to test the contingency procedures.
“We are conducting tests on the first corridor the space station is located,” NASA described the actions of the Russian space agency in a statement. “The ground stations receiving this telemetry and video data confirmed the tests are proceeding without incident. The station crew is not in any immediate danger.”
Unnamed sources close to the investigation told RIA that a piece of material the size of a bullet hit the craft at a very high velocity.
The 2007 testing of Russia’s Warhead Posture Control System (PPCS) has been attributed with the recent incidents. One of its several roles is to put into place a strategy for counter-satellite maneuvers, involving the firing of weapons that act like fake satellites for the purposes of luring away real ones.
Firing off a rocket to destroy an airborne satellite also has an added effect, since it tends to deliver a shockwave capable of injuring, potentially blinding, and possibly killing civilian satellite-carriers. The blast-off also directly damages an orbital rocket, preventing the satellite from releasing its own gas to adjust its orbit to get it higher in the atmosphere before the blast-off.
Investigators are still trying to determine the damage done by the debris, and when it will be repaired and maintained at the ISS.
Like most space stations, there are a fair amount of space junk, sent up there over the years by satellites and cargo planes, some of which might be having some problems with their satellites or navigation systems. A 2011 crash sent some 700 pounds of debris careening into Kazakhstan and a Russian and American spacecraft—including one set to deploy a solar sail experiment—disintegrated in the collision.
The problem is caused by humans; too many people add an unnecessary amount of space junk, and they can also cause that mess to get a little out of control.