Space debris hits robotic arm on International Space Station

Piece of space junk punched a hole, but the arm is still operational

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A piece of space debris hit the International Space Station, leaving a hole in the lab's robotic arm.

The Canadian Space Agency's Canadarm2, located outside the station, was damaged but it is still functioning.

The robotic structure has been operational for 20 years and is used for maintenance and photography.

A view of the International Space Station backdropped by the limb of the Earth

"While utmost precautions are taken to reduce the potential for collisions with the ISS, impacts with tiny objects do occur," the Canadian Space Agency said.

"One such hit was noticed recently during a routine inspection of Canadarm2 on May 12.

"Experts from the Canadian Space Agency and Nasa worked together to take detailed images of the area and assess the impact, which occurred on one of Canadarm2's boom segments."

The agency said the hole was about 5 millimetres in diameter and was visible. The arm boom and thermal blanket had been damaged.

Growing problem of space debris

Courtesy: European Space Agency 

Space experts have long spoken of the growing problem 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.

But tiny objects such as dust particles or flecks of paint from satellites are too small to be monitored.

Some of the large space junk pieces include old satellite parts, dead satellites or rocket bodies.

The European Space Agency said space debris should be a concern to all nations.

“Accidental collisions, explosions and even the intentional destruction of satellites have created millions of debris fragments, which orbiting at high speed can damage or destroy any functioning spacecraft that crosses their path,” the agency said.

Private space company Astroscale launched a space clean-up demonstration mission this year to help reduce junk in orbit.

If successful, the mission could be expanded and would help reduce space debris significantly.

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