Space Debris Hit the International Space Station Causing Small Crack in Window

May 13, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

The Cupola observation module on the ISS
Photo credit: NASA . The Cupola observation module on the International Space Station

The ISS is not invincible!

Space has been riddled with debris ever since man first ventured into space and brought their bad littering habits with them.  During April, a small piece of orbiting junk hit the International Space Station (ISS) where six astronauts, including Tim Peake, currently reside.

The small orbiting object impacted a window on the Cupola observation module, which was added to the ISS in 2010 to allow for breathtaking views of earth and celestial objects. One of the observation windows of the Cupola module was chipped by the collision. Peake snapped a photo of the damaged glass, confirming a circular chip 7 millimeters in diameter.

The 7-millimeter chip in the glass of the Cupola module, photographed by Tim Peake

Image Credit: ESA/NASA  

“I am often asked if the International Space Station is hit by space debris. Yes – this is the chip in one of our Cupola windows, glad it is quadruple glazed!”  Said Peake in a news release for the European Space Agency, ESA.

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The ISS is shielded and extensively protected around all the vital technical and crew areas, but anything colliding with the space station could cause real damage as objects in orbit can reach speeds of 22,000 miles (34,500 kilometers) per hour .

Although, European Space Agency (ESA) says the recent impact was most likely caused by a paint fleck or a minuscule metal fragment no bigger than a few thousandths of a millimeter across, it is larger debris that poses a major concern.

Debris greater than 1 centimeter could penetrate the shields of the station’s crew modules, causing extensive damage, and anything greater than 10 centimeters could shatter a satellite or spacecraft into pieces. Who knows, next time the ISS might not come away with only a chipped window.

However, there are many proposed ways of cleaning up these potentially threatening space debris in orbit around Earth, as well as stricter rules in place that prevent space littering in the first place.

Holger Krag, head of ESA’s Space Debris Office said, “ESA is at the forefront of developing and implementing debris-mitigation guidelines, because the best way to avoid problems from orbital debris is not to cause them in the first place.”

“These guidelines are applied to all new missions flown by ESA, and include dumping fuel tanks and discharging batteries at the end of a mission, to avoid explosions, and ensuring that satellites reenter the atmosphere and safely burn up within 25 years of the end of their working lives.”

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