ISS 'nauts told to duck and cover after dead Russian sat sprays space junk

This has happened before after Moscow made a mess with a missile

Astronauts on the International Space Station were told to duck and cover on Thursday after a Russian satellite broke up.

US Space Command warned of the sat's demise and identified it as RESURS-P1 (#39186) – a decommissioned Russian-owned satellite.

Launched in 2013, RESURS-P1 was an Earth observation sat that the Mission Control Center of Russia's Roscomos space agency described as capable of handling jobs like observing natural resources, monitoring emergencies caused by natural disasters, or supporting construction projects for highways, railways, and pipelines.

The 6,500kg sat was expected to go about its business for five years, but lasted over eight before some systems failed and Russia decommissioned it in December 2021.

It's orbited ever since but, as is nearly always the case, drifted Earthwards.

On Wednesday, sat-watching outfit LeoLabs spotted what it described as "a debris-generating event in Low Earth Orbit."

Space Command confirmed that the next day – adding that the incident produced "over 100 pieces of trackable debris."

All that junk appeared in an orbit worryingly close to that occupied by the International Space Station, concerning NASA enough that the nine astronauts aboard the orbiting lab were told to shelter for around an hour.

ISS crew have done this before, for similar reasons. In 2021 Russia deliberately destroyed another defunct sat, again sending a spray of debris across the heavens.

That incident created 1,500 pieces of junk. There's currently no indication that bits of RESURS-P1 pose a danger, but the 100 observable pieces of space junk floating around – and likely more too small to spot – add to concerns that low Earth orbit is now becoming so dangerously crowded that important orbital assets are at risk.

Several space agencies and private operators are therefore trying to clean up space junk. One such effort – conducted by Japan's JAXA and a private outfit called Astroscale – recently demonstrated its ability to approach a target satellite. Astroscale debuted on the Tokyo Stock Exchange after that demo, at ¥1,400 ($8.70) but has since deorbited slightly to trade at around ¥1,000 ($6.20). ®

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