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International Space Station dodges orbital debris from Russian anti-satellite test

The International Space Station with the bright Earth below.
The International Space Station as pictured from a SpaceX Crew Dragon during a November 2021 fly around. (Image credit: NASA)

A piece of space junk from a Russian anti-satellite weapons test forced the International Space Station to maneuver to avoid the orbital debris on Thursday (June 16). 

Russia's space agency Roscosmos used an uncrewed Progress 81 cargo ship docked at the International Space Station to move the orbiting lab clear of a piece of space debris from the Russian satellite Cosmos 1408, sharing video of the activity (opens in new tab) on the social media service Telegram. Russia destroyed the defunct Soviet-era satellite in a November 2021 anti-satellite missile test

"I confirm that at 22.03 Moscow time, the engines of the Russian Progress MS-20 transport cargo ship carried out an unscheduled maneuver to avoid a dangerous approach of the International Space Station with a fragment of the Kosmos-1408 spacecraft," Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin wrote on Telegram (opens in new tab), according to a Google translation, using Roscosmos' designation for Progress 81.

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The Progress 81 cargo ship fired its thrusters for 4 minutes and 34 seconds to move the massive space station away from the trajectory of the fragment of Cosmos-1408 and raise the station's orbit slightly.

 "The crew was never in any danger and the maneuver had no impact on station operations," NASA officials wrote in an update (opens in new tab). "Without the maneuver, it was predicted that the fragment could have passed within around a half mile from the station."

Cosmos 1408 was a Soviet Electronic and Signals Intelligence focused Tselina-D satellite launched in 1982 from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome, according to a NASA report (opens in new tab).

 On Nov. 15, 2021, the satellite (which was no longer functional) was intentionally destroyed by Russia in an anti-satellite missile test that created an estimated 1,500 pieces of orbital debris. Astronauts on the space station were forced to take shelter on Nov. 15 due to concerns over that debris, which could pose a hazard to the space station and other spacecraft for years to come, experts have said

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Tariq Malik
Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.