Beijing has repeatedly been urged to dispose of its increasingly damaged space station, whose storage module has become jammed with defunct satellites
A US observation satellite has been hurled from the International Space Station, dodging a looming threat of debris that has plagued the station for years and likely poses a risk to astronauts living on the planet’s surface.
“Very near the International Space Station an active antenna package completed its orbital decay procedures and plummeted back to Earth,” Nasa said in a statement, adding that the passing satellite disintegrated over Russia’s Timagorsk space station.
Chinese space station will fall into Earth’s atmosphere – and the hazards are endless Read more
The space agency said it was monitoring a “scattered, but controllable, plume of atmospheric debris” from the satellite, whose entry into the atmosphere on Friday caused an unusually quiet atmosphere at the international space station.
It appeared to be a smaller than last year’s uncontrolled re-entry of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Nanjing 1 satellite, although scientists have warned that there could be difficulties dealing with any debris falling in the vicinity of inhabited areas.
Beijing has repeatedly been urged to dispose of its increasingly damaged space station, whose storage module has become jammed with defunct satellites as it moves slowly towards Earth at 3,000mph.
Nasa has warned that the station’s steady decay presents a new hazard for future space explorers. By the time the remaining two modules are destroyed in fireballs in 2023, when they fall into Earth’s atmosphere, a one-metre chunk of metal will likely litter the Earth’s surface.
Some global space agencies are discussing the possibility of recycling parts of the station to use for other missions, but China is keeping an eye on other countries’ practice for ensuring nothing from its high-profile laboratory ends up along the ground.
Many of China’s scientific achievements in space have been accompanied by high-profile mishaps that have become hallmarks of the country’s growing stature.
In late January, Nasa reported on the loss of a satellite belonging to India’s space agency from the space station, when an antenna remained attached to its surface and started to fail.
NASA said last month that a high-definition communications satellite owned by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) had also ended up orbiting the station. Nasa said the debris was expected to reach the Pacific Ocean on 7 March.
On 18 March, the Greek satellite fleet giant Aneos returned from orbit after failing to enter a final stage of the Space Station’s orbit. The debris will impact the Earth’s atmosphere on 24 March and this time will hit any locations within the vicinity of the space station.
“The U.S. space agency is working to locate and capture the debris so it can be disposed of properly,” Nasa said on Friday.
The most recent spaceflight to eliminate a satellite from the orbiter was by the Russian cargo carrier Progress 62. It streaked through the atmosphere on 11 March 2018 and was a smidgeon smaller than the Soyuz capsule carrying Nasa astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin that smashed into the atmosphere on 20 October in a shocking accident that reportedly killed three.
• This article was amended on 15 March 2019 to clarify that Nasa said it was monitoring a “scattered, but controllable, plume of atmospheric debris” from the satellite.