Broke into more than 100 pieces: ISS astronauts forced to hide in shelter for an hour due to Russian satellite

Anna BoklajukNews
Russian Resurs P1 spacecraft breaks into at least 100 pieces

American space agencies reported that the Russian Resurs-P1 spacecraft broke into at least 100 pieces. Nine astronauts aboard the ISS, including two Boeing passengers who were "stuck", had to hide for an hour because of the risk of being hit.

Resource-P1 had been out of service for almost three years, but it could have suddenly exploded due to an onboard fuel leak or an impact from other "space debris." The U.S. Space Command, which has a global network of radars to track space, said the satellite created "more than 100 pieces of debris that can be tracked," MailOnline reports.

Statement from the US Space Command

"USSPACECOM has observed no immediate threats and is continuing to conduct routine conjunction assessments to support the safety and sustainability of the space domain. As such, USSPACECOM has notified commercial, governmental, Allied and Partner organizations via Space-Track.org, to include Russia as the satellite owner," the press release, also published on X, said.

Broke into more than 100 pieces: ISS astronauts forced to hide in shelter for an hour due to Russian satellite

NASA has ordered crews aboard the space station to take refuge in their spacecraft as a standard precaution. The spacecraft docked to the ISS - Soyuz, Crew Dragon, and Boeing Starliner - are believed to provide better protection from debris than the ISS itself.

No reaction from Roscosmos

The Russian space agency Roscosmos, which operated the satellite, did not respond to a request for comment and did not even acknowledge the incident on its social media channels. Within a day of the incident, radar from the American company LeoLabs detected at least 180 pieces of debris from Resurs-P1.

"Due to the low orbit of this debris cloud, we believe the danger will pass in a few weeks or months," LeoLabs said.

What is known about Resurs-P1 and the cause of its mulfunction

Resurs-P1 is a Russian commercial Earth observation satellite capable of receiving high-resolution images. It was operated by Roscosmos and launched to replace the Resurs-DK1 satellite. In January 2022, Dmitry Baranov, CEO of the Progress rocket and space center, said that the satellite was decommissioned due to "a failure of onboard equipment."

There are currently no details about what caused the Russian satellite to fall apart.

However, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, suggested that an explosion could have occurred on board, "Such events can range from low-energy releases of a few pieces of debris due to insulation flaking off, to energetic events due to a small impact or the explosion of an onboard battery. In the latter case some of the debris objects can end up with significantly higher apogees," he wrote on X.

Events like this exacerbate the overall problem of "space junk", the swirling mass of fragments of spacecraft, machinery, and other artificial objects orbiting the Earth. In general, old satellites either remain in orbit for years until they descend into the Earth's atmosphere and burn up, or they move to a "cemetery orbit" at a distance of about 36,000 km from the Earth. The latter happens less often, but it is the best option for the "death" of spent spacecraft as there is less risk of collision with active satellites.

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