International Space Station fires thrusters to dodge space junk

the international space station as photographed while looking down at Earth
The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-133 crew member on space shuttle Discovery on March 7, 2011 after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. (Image credit: NASA)

The International Space Station (ISS) had to perform a debris avoidance maneuver to dodge yet another piece of space junk on Tuesday (March 14). 

Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos reported that the incident occurred at 2:54 p.m. Moscow time, or 7:54 a.m. EDT (1154 GMT) on Tuesday, in a statement on Telegram. The Russian Progress MS-22 cargo capsule currently docked at the orbital laboratory fired its thrusters for 135 seconds to move the station to safety and adjust its average altitude to 260 miles (419 km) above Earth's surface. 

The incident marks the second time in a month that the International Space Station has had to perform such a maneuver. On March 6, the same Progress capsule fired its thrusters for six minutes to avoid a possible collision with a commercial Earth-imaging satellite. According to a 2022 NASA report, the ISS had to perform similar maneuvers to dodge satellites and trackable debris a total of 32 times from 1999 through the time of the report's publication.

Related: How often does the International Space Station have to dodge space debris?

In 2022, the ISS had to perform two separate avoidance maneuvers to dodge debris created by a Russian anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons test conducted in November 2021 that was condemned by the international community

Similar incidents have forced the cancellation of spacewalks and prompted astronauts to take shelter aboard the ISS. The frequency of these incidents is increasing as spaceflight activity increases worldwide. Low Earth orbit continues to become increasingly crowded with satellites and pieces of space junk, so much so that a group of NASA scientists and other experts are now calling for an international treaty to tackle the dangerous orbital debris problem. To date, a feasible solution has yet to be found, as more and more objects are lofted to orbit.

And the orbital debris problem can snowball; as more space junk fills Earth's orbit, the risk of collisions between pieces of space junk increases — and such collisions would create even more pieces of debris.

NASA plans to operate the ISS until 2030, at which point it will deorbit the lab to a fiery demise over open ocean. The agency is already planning the development of spacecraft to aid in its retirement.

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Brett Tingley
Managing Editor,

Brett is curious about emerging aerospace technologies, alternative launch concepts, military space developments and uncrewed aircraft systems. Brett's work has appeared on Scientific American, The War Zone, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett enjoys skywatching throughout the dark skies of the Appalachian mountains.