The International Space Station (ISS) was forced to change course — hours before a new astronaut crew blasted off to the floating laboratory — to avoid being hit by a piece of space debris left behind after a Chinese mission.
A manoeuvre was made on Wednesday night by Russian space agency Roscosmos to dodge the space junk produced from a Chinese anti-satellite weapons test in 2007.
Thrusters on a cargo ship docked at the station were fired for 361 seconds to clear the station’s path.
“With the help of the engines of the cargo ship Progress MS-18, the orbital altitude of the International Space Station (ISS) has been increased to avoid collision with space debris,” Roscosmos said on social media.
“According to preliminary data, after the manoeuvre, the orbital altitude of the ISS increased by about 1.2 kilometre.”
The space debris was part of a Chinese weather satellite destroyed by a Chinese suborbital missile test 14 years ago, producing thousands of pieces of space junk.
Since then the debris has been pulled closer to Earth and entered the flight path of the space station.
During the SpaceX Crew-3 pre-launch briefing, Nasa said the manoeuvre was required before four astronauts could be launched to the ISS.
Earlier this year, the remnants of China's largest rocket made an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth, sparking international anxiety.
The debris landed in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives, with social media users around the world reporting sightings of the junk hurtling across the sky.
For years, space experts have raised concerns over the rising number of space debris.
More than 23,000 objects — all the size of a softball or larger — are tracked round the clock to detect potential collisions with satellites or the ISS.
The station has been operational for 20 years and is used for science experiments.
In June, a piece of space debris hit the space station, leaving a hole in the lab’s robotic arm.
The Canadian Space Agency's Canadarm2, located outside the station, was damaged but is still functioning.