A robotic arm attached to the International Space Station (ISS) is a tiny piece of space smashed to pieces. The component known as Canadarm2 is still in operation, although the fact that the site’s rubbish is now a major problem and likely to cause catastrophic damage serves as a glossy reminder. In a blog post, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) – which designed Canadarm2 – announced that the damage was first noticed during a regular inspection on May 12th.
The wreckage hit the ISS was too small, it could not be tracked, yet the metal of the arm was traveling fast enough to pierce the outer layer. “Canada 2 continues to conduct planned activities,” the CSA said. “The damage is limited to a small portion of the arm boom and heat blanket.” The arm is currently scheduled to complete a number of tasks, including moving a robot called the Dextre into position so that it can replace a faulty power switchbox.
With the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, the amount of man-made debris in low-Earth orbit has been increasing since the beginning of space age active satellite. According to the CSA, “More than 23,000 objects of softball or larger size have been tracked 24/7 to detect possible collisions with satellites and ISS.” Yet as these items shrink and fragment, they produce small debris that cannot be tracked, creating a significant risk for all future space travel and activities. The European Space Agency says most of these small fragments were created as a result of the remaining fuel and battery explosions left on the spacecraft, with about 12.5 incidents of this nature occurring each year.
As a result, it estimates that more than 130 million objects measuring upwards of one millimeter in size are currently stuck in our orbit. Although these fragments may be smaller, the speed at which they traveled enabled satellites and other spacecraft to perforate, which is why calls for stricter rules to limit the amount of space debris are increasing. The CSA, meanwhile, says it will continue to work closely with NASA to determine the full extent of the damage caused by Canada2.