The inevitable has taken place. A particle of Space Debris that was too small to be tracked collided with and damaged the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station. Although the equipment is still functional, the object penetrated the thermal blanket and damaged the boom under it. It’s a frightening reminder that the Space Debris situation in low-Earth orbit is a ticking time bomb.
Space agencies all over the world are aware of the problem of Space Debris. Over 23,000 fragments in low-Earth orbit are being tracked to help satellites and the International Space Station avoid collisions, but they’re all around the size of a softball or more extensive. Anything smaller than that is impossible to track, but orbital velocities can cause tremendous damage, including punching right through metal plates.
The Canadian Space Agency created Canadarm2, formally known as the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), a staple on the space station for 20 years. It’s a titanium robotic arm with many joints that can help with handling things outside the ISS, such as cargo shuttles and station maintenance. The actual time of the collision is unknown. The damage was discovered during a routine check on May 12th.
NASA and the CSA collaborated to obtain detailed photographs of the damage and examine it. Even though the ISS appears to have gotten lucky this time, the Space Debris problem seems to be getting worse. Last year, the International Space Station (ISS) had to conduct three emergency maneuvers to avoid colliding with space junk at its altitude of roughly 400 kilometers (250 miles).