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International Space Station forced to dodge debris, Russian space agency says

The International Space Station (ISS) was forced to swerve away from a fragment of a US launch vehicle on Friday, the Russian space agency has said.

The manoeuvre comes as the latest in a series of incidents in which space debris has forced astronauts to respond.

Calls to monitor and regulate space debris, or space junk, have grown since Russia conducted an anti-satellite missile test last month.

A view of the International Space Station with the earth in the background
Image: A view of the International Space Station with the earth in the background

This generated a debris field in orbit that US officials said would pose a hazard to space activities for years.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, said on Friday that the ISS had been forced to move due to space junk from a US launch vehicle sent into orbit in 1994.

Mr Rogozin said the station’s orbit, in an unscheduled manoeuvre carried out by mission control, dropped by 310 metres (339 yards) for nearly three minutes to avoid a close encounter, before returning to its initial position.

He added that the move would not affect the planned launch of the Soyuz MS-20 rocket on 8 December from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and its docking at the ISS.

More on International Space Station

Space debris consists of discarded launch vehicles or parts of a spacecraft that float around in space and risk colliding with satellites or the ISS.

Former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen wrote in the Financial Times on Thursday that Russia’s destruction of a satellite last month risked turning space into a junkyard.

“Unless we change course, the opportunities of space to improve our lives on Earth could be closed off for generations,” he wrote.

Space debris also forced NASA on Tuesday to postpone a spacewalk to replace a faulty antenna on the ISS.

Last month the ISS performed a brief manoeuvre to dodge a fragment of a defunct Chinese satellite.

In separate comments on Friday, Roscosmos said it hoped NASA chief Bill Nelson would visit Russia in the first half of 2022 to discuss further cooperation on the ISS.