Astronauts aboard the International Space Station were carrying out an "avoidance maneuver" on Tuesday to ensure the ISS would not be hit by a piece of debris, the US space agency NASA announced.
The debris should pass within "several kilometers" (miles) of the station, but out of an abundance of caution, the ISS's trajectory was being changed to move it farther away from the object.
The three crew members - two Russians and an American - relocated to their Soyuz spacecraft as the maneuver began so they could evacuate if necessary, NASA said.
The station boosted its orbit out of the way of an unknown piece of space debris today after a docked resupply ship fired its engines at 5:19pm ET. The Exp 63 crew has resumed normal activities. More... https://t.co/LWOgLdshbQ pic.twitter.com/xoYwCyQDsS— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) September 22, 2020
"Maneuver Burn complete. The astronauts are coming out of safe haven," NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said on Twitter.
The "time of closest approach" is 2221 GMT, NASA said.
The @Space_Station has maneuvered 3 times in 2020 to avoid debris. In the last 2 weeks, there have been 3 high concern potential conjunctions. Debris is getting worse! Time for Congress to provide @CommerceGov with the $15 mil requested by @POTUS for the Office of Space Commerce.— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) September 22, 2020
The ISS is orbiting roughly 260 miles (420 kilometers) above the Earth, at a speed of about 17,130 miles per hour (27,568 km/h).
The debris object that ISS avoided is now available on SpaceTrack as 2018-084CQ, 46477, from the breakup of Japan's H-2A F40 rocket stage. At 2221:07 UTC it passed within a few km of ISS at a relative velocity of 14 6 km/s, 422 km over the Pitcairn Is in the S Pacific pic.twitter.com/2T3yFQoFMT— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) September 22, 2020
At such a velocity, even a small object could seriously damage a solar panel or other facet of the station.
This type of maneuver is necessary on a regular basis. NASA said 25 such maneuvers had occurred between 1999 and 2018.