How International Space Station, with UAE astronaut onboard, avoided collision with satellite earlier this week

Crews both onboard the ISS and down on Earth had to work in tandem to execute the manoeuvre

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Published: Thu 9 Mar 2023, 9:22 PM

Last updated: Thu 9 Mar 2023, 10:05 PM

The International Space Station (ISS) had to manoeuvre out of the way to dodge a collision with an approaching satellite earlier this week.

According to Nasa, the orbital outpost — with UAE's own astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi onboard — executed the avoidance manoeuvre early Monday due to an oncoming Earth observation satellite.

"The docked ISS Progress 83 resupply ship fired its engines for just over six minutes slightly raising the station’s orbit to avoid the approaching satellite," the US space agency said.

What is an avoidance manoeuvre?

An avoidance manoeuvre is essentially a course correction for the ISS. With enough warning about a potential collision (as was the case with this time), a new orbit can be calculated. The crews aboard the spacecraft and the ground teams then work in tandem to schedule a 'thruster burn' which will correct the course of the ISS and push it to a new orbit.

Taking evasive action of this nature is not uncommon for the ISS, which has made four such corrections in the last two years. For example, back in 2021, astronauts on the International Space Station were forced to prepare for a possible evacuation after an debris-generating event in outer space. Nasa astronauts and Russian cosmonauts retreated back into their spacecraft, which could be used as lifeboats to bring crew safely back to Earth in case of an emergency.

A Reuters report at the time noted that the US government tracks about 23,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth. "Debris, particularly near the International Space Station, orbits the Earth 15 to 16 times a day, increasing the risk of collision," it said.

Manoeuvre impact

Nasa further confirmed that the new orbital trajectory "will not impact" the upcoming departure of the Crew-5 mission, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 9. After they depart the ISS to splashdown on Earth, Crew-6, which includes AlNeyadi, will be overseeing all operations and experiments on the orbiting laboratory. One of their tasks will be to prepare for the arrival of the next Dragon - SpaceX's CRS-27 cargo Dragon, currently scheduled for a March 14 launch.

Sultan of Space

UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi took off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft on March 2, 2023. He and his crewmates docked at the International Space Station the next day, March 3, to begin what is to be the longest Arab space mission. He will spend 6 months at the ISS, conducting important experiments to help us understand life in outer space as well as back home on Earth.


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