DEC 11, 2017 11:14 AM PST

International Space Station's Space Debris Sensor Could be a Game-Changer

Comprised of spent rocket boosters, retired satellites, and other unwanted knick-knacks that make their way into outer space, space junk clutters the very same region over our heads that we send our latest rockets and employ astronauts on the International Space Station.

An artist's impression of the collection of space junk surrounding the Earth.

Image Credit: Pixabay

If it wasn’t bad enough that space junk litters most of Earth’s orbital altitudes, then consider the domino effect that ensues after two more massive objects slam into one another and produce heaps of smaller space debris.

Related: The International Space Station has orbited the Earth more than 100,000 times

NASA can track much of the more substantial space junk pieces and enact evasive maneuvers when necessary, but the same can’t be said for smaller space debris.

Many of these bits measure a mere millimeter or less across and easily evade detection. Furthermore, they whip through space at break-neck speeds and multiply exponentially. Given enough time, the swirling mess of space debris could transform into a hazardous environment akin to 'no man's land.'

Space debris of this nature regularly bombard the International Space Station, and that’s part of what makes spacewalks so dangerous. As we saw just last year, a 7-millimeter piece of space debris packed enough of a punch to crack the quadruple-layered Cupola window on the International Space Station, so it’s mind-boggling to think about what a tiny 1-millimeter chunk could do.

Related: Japan's attempt to clean up space junk proves unsuccessful

So just how frequent are these space debris collisions? We don’t really know yet, but we do know that many of them go undetected because most space debris slam into metal surfaces rather than glass as we saw with the Cupola window.

To learn more about them, NASA recently attached a new sensor to the International Space Station’s exterior called the Space Debris Sensor (SDS). Specially-calibrated right here on Earth, the SDS will detect even the slightest collisions over the next few years and help scientists collect data for analysis.

The information SDS gathers could help us discern a variety of things, including:

  • The frequency of collisions
  • How big the debris are upon impact
  • The speed at which the space debris travel
  • Which direction the space debris came from
  • And more…

When everything is officially said and done, the research could help NASA make the International Space Station even safer for astronauts on the job. Furthermore, it could help scientists discover new ways to clean our stellar neighborhood of unwanted space junk.

Related: ISS-CREAM studies cosmic rays from the International Space Station

It should be interesting to see how the SDS might revolutionize humankind’s use of outer space.

Source: Universe Today

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUN 27, 2018
Videos
JUN 27, 2018
Will We Ever Achieve Light Speed?
Will humankind ever achieve light speed with a spacecraft? Science fiction movies keep our hopes high, but the reality of things is that it may not be poss...
JUL 01, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUL 01, 2018
RemoveDebris Spacecraft Will Test Nets and Harpoons for Space Junk Cleanup
One of the most pressing issues to threaten future space exploration is the presence of space junk. It continues to clog up the limited space surrounding o...
JUL 10, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUL 10, 2018
Listen to the Eerie Plasma Waves That Move From Saturn to Enceladus
When NASA’s Cassini spacecraft performed its grand finale before plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, the spacecraft’s Radio Plasma Wave Sc...
JUL 25, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUL 25, 2018
SpaceX Flies Ten More Satellites Into Space for Iridium
On Wednesday, SpaceX completed its second Falcon 9 rocket launch of the week. Stowed away inside the rocket’s massive cargo hold were a total of ten...
JUL 28, 2018
Chemistry & Physics
JUL 28, 2018
Star Ran Away From Black Hole, Leaving a Part of Its Light Behind
In a recent news conference, scientists from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced that their Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile witnessed a c...
SEP 05, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 05, 2018
What Would We Even Do If We Found Aliens?
Space agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency are exceptionally busy searching our solar system for evidence of otherworldly life, but do we know...
Loading Comments...