Lucky strike: Space debris hits and damages International Space Station

NASA/Canadian Space Agency

During a routine inspection on May 12, 2021, a small hole was found on the Canadarm2 robotic arm, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) reported on May 28, 2021.

“Results of the ongoing analysis indicate that the arm’s performance remains unaffected,” the CSA reported. “The damage is limited to a small section of the arm boom and thermal blanket.”

The 5-millimeter hole was attributed to an impact with either a micrometeorite or space debris that the ISS encountered during its orbit around the Earth. The incident was defined as a “lucky strike” by the agency, given the arm is only 35 centimeters (13 inches) wide. 

Even though the impact should not have any consequence for the operation of the ISS, it raises the question of orbital pollution and the potential need for mitigating solutions. The European Space Agency estimates that around 900,000 objects larger than 1 centimeter are currently orbiting the Earth. While small, an impact at the speed of 7 kilometers per second, the ISS’ orbiting speed, could have dramatic consequences.


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