The International Space Station received somewhat lighter final week.
The orbiting lab discarded a 2.9-ton (2.6 metric tons) pallet of used batteries on Thursday morning (March 11) — probably the most large object it has ever jettisoned, NASA spokesperson Leah Cheshier told Gizmodo.
The space junk is predicted to fall again to Earth in two to 4 years, company officers wrote in an replace final week. That replace additionally acknowledged that the pallet will fritter away “harmlessly within the ambiance,” however not everyone seems to be satisfied that is the case.
Associated: 7 wild ways to destroy orbital debris
“This strikes me (haha, a pun given the circumstances) as harmful. It appears huge and dense so unlikely to fritter away fully,” astronomer and writer Phil Plait, whose “Unhealthy Astronomy” weblog runs on Syfy Wire, wrote on Twitter Thursday.
“Sure. Then again e.g. Tiangong-1 was 7500 kg [kilograms], a lot greater. However I might say given how dense EP9 is, it is regarding, albeit on the low finish of regarding,” responded astronomer and satellite Jonathan McDowell, who’s primarily based on the Harvard-Smithsonian Middle for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Tiangong-1 was China’s first prototype area station, which hosted astronaut crews in 2012 and 2013. The college-bus-sized craft ended up crashing back to Earth over the southern Pacific Ocean in April 2018.
EP9, brief for “Uncovered Pallet 9,” is the not too long ago jettisoned object. EP9 got here to the station final yr on a Japanese H-II Switch Automobile (HTV), as a part of the hassle to exchange the orbiting lab’s outdated nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion ones — an prolonged course of that has required numerous spacewalks over the previous 5 years.
Beforehand, the outdated batteries had been packed into the disposable HTV, which carried them right down to their doom in Earth’s ambiance. However the October 2018 launch failure of a Soyuz rocket carrying NASA astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin disrupted this sample, Spaceflight Now reported. (Hague and Ovchinin ended up touchdown safely, due to their Soyuz capsule’s launch-abort system.) And EP9 got here up on the ninth and ultimate HTV, that means it was left with no doomsday experience.
So area station managers determined to jettison the battery-packed pallet. On Thursday morning, floor controllers at NASA’s Johnson House Middle in Houston commanded the orbiting lab’s 57.7-foot-long (17.6 meters) robotic arm to launch EP9 into orbit, NASA officers wrote within the replace.
The SUV-sized pallet has loads of space-junk firm up there. According to the European Space Agency, researchers estimate that Earth orbit is cluttered with about 34,000 particles objects at the very least four inches (10 centimeters) broad and 128 million items which can be 1 millimeter throughout or bigger.
Mike Wall is the writer of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a e book concerning the seek for alien life. Observe him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Observe us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Fb.