Space Junk Damages International Space Station Robotic Arm

According to NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, a piece of space junk smashed into the International Space Station, damaging the orbiting lab’s robotic arm.

During a routine inspection on May 12, a puncture in the arm’s protective thermal covering was discovered, but the nearly 60-foot robotic appendage is still operational, according to Canadian Space Agency officials.

As the narrow band of space around Earth becomes increasingly crowded with satellites, spent rocket parts, and other wayward objects, the collision highlights the growing threat posed by orbital debris. According to experts, society’s reliance on satellite systems for telecommunications, GPS, and other everyday conveniences exacerbates the problem.

It’s unclear what struck Canadarm2, the space station’s robotic arm, or when the incident occurred, but an investigation is underway.

The hole appears to be about 0.2 inches across, according to the agency, and the damage is limited to a small section of Canadarm2.

“Despite the impact,” officials from the Canadian Space Agency said in a statement, “results of the ongoing analysis indicate that the arm’s performance remains unaffected.”

More than 27,000 pieces of space junk are tracked by the US Department of Defense, including about 23,000 objects larger than a softball. These pieces of debris travel through space at speeds of up to 18,000 miles per hour, posing a threat to operational spacecraft as well as astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

NASA has had to perform at least 26 special maneuvers to avoid orbital debris that has passed too close to the orbiting outpost during the space station’s history.

Four astronauts on their way to the International Space Station in one of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules were warned of a possible collision with space junk shortly after launch in April. However, the United States Space Command later confirmed that the alarm was false and that the object was not in danger of colliding with the spacecraft.

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