One significant concern for astronauts aboard the ISS is orbital debris that zips around the planet and could pose a potential hazard to the space station. While orbital debris has never been a significant issue for the ISS and the astronauts aboard, recently, an impact with orbital debris occurred. The Canadarm2 robotic arm attached to the ISS used to manipulate cargo, and other objects outside the space station was recently hit by a piece of orbital debris.
It’s unclear exactly when the impact occurred. The damage to the robotic arm was noticed during a routine inspection of the arm on May 12. The Canadian Space Agency and NASA work together to take detailed images of the area and assess the impact on one of the arm’s boom sections. The space agency says that ongoing analysis indicates that the performance of the robotic arm remains unaffected.
The space agencies report that the damage to the arm is limited to a small section of the arm’s boom and thermal blanket. Canadarm2 is expected to continue conducting fully planned operations, including hoisting Dextre into position to replace a faulty power switch box. Both NASA and the Canadian Space Agency said they would continue to gather data to conclude the analysis, and near-term robotic operations are continuing as planned.
NASA and its partner agencies have a long-standing list of guidelines to ensure that the crew aboard the space station is safe. Both NASA and the CSA say the safety of astronauts aboard the ISS is the top priority for all station partners. Currently, more than 23,000 objects the size of a softball or larger are tracked constantly to warn of potential collisions with satellites or the ISS.
However, a range of tiny objects spanning the size from dust particles and rocks to flecks of paint from satellites are too small to be monitored. Traveling at extremely high velocities, even these tiny pieces of debris pose a potential hazard to the ISS.