TechESA confirms minimal risk as ISS's largest debris set to re-enter atmosphere

ESA confirms minimal risk as ISS's largest debris set to re‑enter atmosphere

International Space Station (ISS)
International Space Station (ISS)
Images source: © Wikimedia Commons

7:54 AM EST, March 8, 2024

According to the ESA, space debris originating from the ISS will return to the Earth's atmosphere on March 8 at about 12:56 PM Eastern Time. This prediction concerns a set of nine batteries disposed of by astronauts in March 2021. It represents the most significant piece of debris to fall back to Earth from the ISS, given its substantial size of 13 x 6.5 x 4.9 feet and weight of 2.6 tons, mirroring that of an average SUV. Although a significant portion of this debris will disintegrate upon atmospheric entry, there's a possibility that some fragments might land on Earth. However, the ESA emphasizes the shallow risk of these causing any injury.

Impending entry of ISS space debris

This event is notable as the largest known object from the ISS to re-enter our atmosphere. With several years spent orbiting Earth, its journey is now nearing its end. The ESA assures that while much of it will disintegrate upon re-entry, the chance of any remaining fragments causing harm to individuals is exceedingly slim.

The exact landing spot of the battery fragments remains uncertain. However, experts from Germany suggest that they could potentially fall in the southwestern part of the country, specifically in Rhineland-Palatinate.

Beyond these batteries, various other pieces of space debris have originated from the International Space Station. In an interesting event in November 2023, astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Lorala O'Hara encountered an issue during an exterior maintenance spacewalk. In a mishap,

they lost a tool bag, which subsequently became a tracked object in space, cataloged as 58229/1998-067WC. Despite its small size, the lost bag, like all space debris, poses a potential risk to the ISS, satellites, and spacecraft due to the high velocities at which these objects orbit Earth. Fortunately, the risk of the bag colliding with the ISS again has been assessed as low.

The ESA estimates that about 29,000 pieces of space debris larger than 4 inches, 670,000 pieces over 0.4 inches, and 170 million fragments above 0.04 inches are currently in orbit around our planet. This highlights the growing concern over space debris and its management.

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