Debris prompts space station crew to seek shelter

Irene Klotz, Reuters
March 25, 2012, 5:03 am

Nighttime view from the International Space Station shows the Atlantic coast of the United States in this NASA handout image dated February 6, 2012. REUTERS/NASA/Handout

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – A passing piece of potentially dangerous space debris forced astronauts at the International Space Station to temporarily seek refuge in escape ships early on Saturday, U.S. officials said.

The debris, a fragment from an old Russian satellite named Cosmos 2251 that smashed into an Iridium Communications spacecraft in 2009, passed harmlessly by the $100 billion orbital outpost at 2:38 a.m. EDT (0638 GMT), NASA said.

With enough advance notice, NASA will maneuver the space station, which orbits about 240 miles above the planet, to put more space between it and passing debris. The other option is for the station’s six crew members to shelter inside the two Soyuz capsules berthed at the station in case the outpost is struck and depressurizes.

“This was a very erratic piece of Cosmos 2251 debris and tracking it was very difficult,” NASA spokesman Michael Curie wrote in an email to Reuters.

“Its size and exact distance are unknown, and the crew sheltered in place as a highly-conservative, cautionary measure. The predicted miss distance prior to its passing was 11 to 14 kilometers (6.8 to 8.7 miles) in overall miss distance. But again, we do not know its exact distance at 2:38 am EDT, the time of closest approach,” he said.

It was the third time a crew has had to shelter in Soyuz spacecraft when debris was predicted to pass close to the space station, NASA said.

More than 20,000 pieces of man-made debris larger than a softball currently orbit Earth. Space junk travels at speeds of up to 17,500 mph, so even small pieces have enough energy to cause significant damage upon impact.

NASA says the greatest risk from debris comes from untrackable objects. The February 10, 2009, collision of the Russian and Iridium satellites added more than 2,000 pieces of trackable debris to the growing list of space junk. Two years earlier, China intentionally destroyed one of its defunct weather satellites to test a missile, generating more than 3,000 pieces of debris.

The U.S. military’s Space Surveillance Network tracks objects as small as two inches in diameter in orbits close to Earth, such as where the space station flies, and about one yard (.9 meter) in orbit in higher orbits.

(Editing by Paul Simao)

Debris prompts space station crew to seek shelter – Yahoo! New Zealand News.

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Biggest solar storm in years bombards Earth

Published: 24 January, 2012, 15:19
Edited: 24 January, 2012, 19:59

This August 1, 2010 handout image courtesy of NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) shows a view of the Sun. (AFP Photo / HO / NASA)

The largest solar radiation outburst in six years has reached Earth, having hit our planet with high-energy atomic particles at around 2 pm GMT, scientists say, threatening possible malfunction of communication satellites and power grids.

The major impact occured in the North Pole area.

The polar zones have very little protection against outbursts of solar radiation due to the structure of Earth’s magnetic field. Many airliners have been avoiding northern polar routes as the proton storm may disrupt high frequency radio communications, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center physicist Doug Biesecker told Gizmodo in an interview.

High precision GPS equipment can also be affected by solar radiation. Civilians however will hardly notice any positioning errors.

The functioning of the ISS has not be affected. Taking into consideration the prognosis for the solar storm, the ISS crew has not even had to take additional radiation security measures.

Meanwhile, the Northern Lights have lit up the skies above Scotland, northern England, and Ireland, which is a rarity for the relatively southern region. The light may be visible for a few more days according to the director of the Aurora section of the British Astronomical Association, Ken Kennedy.

Massive ejections of plasma, or coronal mass, from the Sun have often resulted in communication and other satellites, as well as ground communications facilities failing. They can cause magnetic storms but bring no evident harm to the health of the planet’s population.

The first solar storm this year was registered on January 19 by NASA’s extra-magnetospheric satellites at the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory SOHO, Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory STEREO, and Advanced Composition Explorer ACE. Occurring after two storm-free months, that storm was ranked a relatively weak grade 5.

The solar tempest of today is very different. The last time a storm of such force happened was five years ago, in May 2005.

“For 24-25 January, we expect a magnetic storm that with a high probability can be attributed to a powerful class,” says the head of Russia’s Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism, Ionosphere and Radio Wave Propagation Sergey Gaydash.

Gaydash says the new solar outburst was accompanied by a so-called ‘protonic event’ – a sharp increase in a high-energy proton stream with speeds of up to 4 million kilometers per hour. Dangerous levels of 10-50 MeV (megaelectronvolt) protons have already been exceeded, while the levels of 100 MeV protons – the most dangerous for satellites and electronic equipment – has not passed the critical threshold so far.

via Biggest solar storm in years bombards Earth — RT.

How Would NASA & Russia Evacuate the International Space Station?

By Clara Moskowitz

updated 8/29/2011 4:19:18 PM ET

In the wake of a Russian rocket failure, NASA is considering evacuating the crew of the International Space Station later this year. The unprecedented move would mark the first time in more than 10 years that the orbiting outpost has gone unmanned.

The space station evacuation is one possibility following the failure of the unmanned Russian supply spacecraft just after its Aug. 24 launch — a surprise given the reliable track record of its workhorse Soyuz rocket. The vehicle’s Progress 44 cargo craft, and its 2.9 tons of supplies bound for the International Space Station, crashed in Siberia.

An investigation into the cause of the failure is under way, but until the issue is resolved NASA and its Russian partners are delaying upcoming launches to crews and cargo to the space station. The Soyuz rockets used to launch Progress vehicles are similar to ones used to launch crews into orbit, station managers said. [ Photos: Russia’s Lost Cargo Ship Progress 44 ]

So if a root cause isn’t found quickly, they may have to ground manned Soyuz rockets for the time being, forcing the space agencies to leave the $100 billion orbiting laboratory unmanned for the first time since 2001….

via How Would NASA & Russia Evacuate the International Space Station? – Technology & science – Space – Space.com – msnbc.com.