Space debris strikes space station. Here’s what it damaged

Canadarm2 continues to function normally after getting whacked by space junk, Canadian Space Agency says

A small hole seen in the ISS Canadarm2. (Credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency) (NASA 2021)

A chunk of space trash has left a hole in the International Space Station’s robotic arm but NASA and Canadian mission managers say the arm’s functions won’t be impacted; however, this is far from the last debris encounter for the orbiting laboratory.

The ISS orbits about 200 miles above the planet, in low-Earth orbit, a very popular area for small satellite launches and lots of space debris. More than 23,000 pieces of, essentially, trash from defunct satellites, rocket parts and other objects are being tracked by NASA at all times in the event of a possible collision with spacecraft or the American football-field length space station — where typically about seven astronauts are living and working. There are also other objects including dust particles or smaller pieces of satellite debris that are too small to be tracked.

Even with those precautions — mission managers can make the call to move the ISS to avoid such collisions — impacts to the ISS and its extremities do happen. The space station has also been impacted by tiny micrometeorites before.

[PODCAST: Who takes out the space trash? Space debris is growing, here’s what’s being done about it]

On May 12, during a routine inspection of the Canadian Space Agency-made robotic arm, known as Canadarm2, a hole was observed in a small section of the arm boom and thermal blanket.

CSA and NASA engineers worked together to assess the damage and have determined the arm’s performance remains unaffected, according to an update from the CSA. The robotic arm is key to the ISS because it is used to grapple spacecraft and assist astronauts during spacewalks, several of which are coming up.

Operations for the Canadarm2 will continue as planned. The CSA did not disclose if the hole will be patched or repaired.

This week SpaceX will launch its Cargo Dragon spacecraft to the ISS carrying 7,300 pounds of science, supplies and hardware, including a massive set of new solar panels to power the ISS for years to come.

Liftoff is scheduled for 1:29 p.m. Thursday from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A.

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