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Space station dodges debris from satellite crash

The International Space Station boosted its orbit Friday to avoid a potentially dangerous collision with a piece of space junk.
Image: International Space Station
A photo from March 2011 shows the International Space Station against the backdrop of Earth.NASA file
/ Source: Space.com

The International Space Station boosted its orbit Friday to avoid a potentially dangerous collision with a piece of space junk.

The orbiting laboratory, currently home to six astronauts from three countries, burned its thrusters at 11:10 a.m. ET, raising its orbit slightly to take it out of range of a piece of broken satellite that was due to pass between 0.6 and 15 miles (1 to 24 kilometers) of the station.

"At this point indications are that the debris avoidance maneuver was carried out as planned and carried out successfully," NASA commentator Pat Ryan said on NASA TV. "The crew members continued their work onboard while the burn happened this morning."

The space junk was part of the Iridium 33 communications satellite, which collided with a defunct Russian Cosmos spacecraft in 2009, creating a cloud of thousands of bits of debris that now orbit Earth and sometimes pose a collision hazard to working spacecraft.

The particular bit of space junk that the station dodged was only about 4 inches (10 centimeters) in diameter, but could have been catastrophic to the $100 billion outpost if the two had collided at their high orbital speeds.

Potential space debris conjunctions are not uncommon for the space station. Last November, NASA was considering sending the station crew members into their Russian Soyuz lifeboat to wait out a close pass by a piece of orbital trash. However, a subsequent analysis showed that the debris would stay far enough away to render the precaution unnecessary.

NASA astronaut Dan Burbank is currently leading the space station's Expedition 30 mission, which includes flight engineers Don Pettit of NASA, Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency, and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin and Oleg Kononenko.

The crew members spent the day working on scientific research and routine maintenance on their football field-size home in orbit.

Today's maneuver comes coincidentally timed with two other space junk events: the release of "Space Junk 3D," a new IMAX film chronicling the growing danger of space debris in orbit; and the looming crash of the failed Russian Mars probe Phobos Grunt, which is expected to fall back to Earth in the next few days.

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