Space station robotic arm hit by orbital debris in lucky strike


These images from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency show the location of a space debris strike on the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robot arm spotted on May 12, 2021 and released on May 28. (Image credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency)
These images from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency show the location of a space debris strike on the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robot arm spotted on May 12, 2021 and released on May 28. (Image credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency)
 

A piece of space junk smacked into the robotic arm on the International Space Station, but near-term operations should not be affected, according to the agencies involved. Robotic operators noticed a hole in the station's Canadarm2 provided by the Canadian Space Agency, which has been in service in orbit since 2001, during a routine inspection on May 12, the CSA officials said in a blog post-Friday (May 28). Officials called the hole a lucky strike given the relatively small size of the arm, which is 57.7 feet (17.6 meters) long and has a diameter of just 14 inches (35 cm).


The size of the hole is not apparent in the pictures, nor if the debris went all the way through. However, it does appear Canadarm2's role in keeping the space station properly maintained can continue without interruption, following careful work from both CSA and NASA.


The CSA said, results of the ongoing analysis indicate that the arm's performance remains unaffected. The damage is limited to a small section of the arms boom and thermal blanket.


Canadarm2 was scheduled soon to move a Canadian robotic hand, Dextre, into a spot to replace a faulty power switch box called the Remote Power Control module, but CSA added that operation should not be affected whatsoever. Both Canadarm2 and Dextre are usually operated from CSA headquarters near Montreal, Quebec.


Orbital debris is a growing concern in low Earth orbit due to the number of CubeSat launches arriving there in fleets for broadband service and other applications. Some of these orbits intersect with where the space station operates at an inclination of 52 degrees, roughly 200 miles (450 km) in altitude, but natural space dust and other objects are also a threat.


CSA said, a number of tiny objects ranging from rock or dust particles to flecks of paint from satellites are too small to be monitored.

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