Defunct Russian satellite breaks up, forcing ISS astronauts to shelter

A defunct Russian satellite, RESURS-P1, has fragmented into over 100 pieces of debris in orbit, forcing International Space Station (ISS) astronauts to seek shelter for about an hour, according to U.S. space agencies. The break-up occurred around 10 a.m. Mountain Time (1600 GMT) on Wednesday. Although the cause remains unknown, the event added to the growing mass of space junk.

U.S. Space Command, which is monitoring the debris, reported no immediate threat to other satellites. The debris-generating event took place in an orbit near the space station, prompting U.S. astronauts to take precautionary measures by sheltering in their spacecraft. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency that operated the satellite until it was declared dead in 2022, has not commented on the incident.

Initially, U.S. Space Command identified over 100 pieces of debris. By Thursday afternoon, space-tracking firm LeoLabs detected at least 180 pieces. Such large debris-generating events are rare but increasingly concerning as space becomes more congested with active and defunct satellites essential for communication, navigation, and internet services.

The breakup occurred at an altitude of approximately 355 km (220 miles) in low-Earth orbit, a densely populated region with satellites from networks like SpaceX’s Starlink and China’s crewed missions. LeoLabs estimated that due to the low orbit of the debris cloud, the hazard could persist for weeks to months.

This incident underscores the growing need for effective space debris management as orbital environments become increasingly crowded, posing risks to vital satellite operations and human space missions.

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