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.

"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 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).

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.

© Agence France-Presse