A piece of space debris smashed into the robotic arm on the International Space Station, but no immediate activities will be harmed, according to the agencies concerned.
During a routine examination on May 12, a puncture in the arm’s protective thermal covering was discovered, but the roughly 60-foot robotic limb is still operational, the Canadian Space Agency officials confirmed.
Given the small size of the arm, which is 57.7 feet (17.6 meters) long and has a diameter of just 14 inches (35 cm), officials labeled the hole a “lucky strike.”
The extent of the hole and whether the debris went all the way through are not visible in the photos. Following careful work by both CSA and NASA, it appears that Canadarm2’s role in keeping the space station in good repair may continue without interruption.
Canadarm2 was expected to send a Canadian robotic hand, Dextre, into a location to repair a defective power switchbox known as the Remote Power Control module soon, although CSA stated that operation should be unaffected. Canadarm2 and Dextre are usually run from the CSA headquarters in Montreal, Quebec.
Space Trash: A Growing Problem
As the narrow band of space around Earth gets increasingly packed with satellites, discarded rocket parts, and other stray objects, the collision underlines the growing hazard presented by orbital debris. Society’s reliance on satellite systems for telecommunications, GPS, and other common comforts exacerbates the situation, experts have said.
“Results of the ongoing analysis indicate that the arm’s performance remains unaffected. The damage is limited to a small section of the arm boom and thermal blanket,” the CSA stated in a blog post on Friday, May 28.
More than 27,000 pieces of space trash are tracked by the US Department of Defense, including about 23,000 objects larger than a softball. These pieces of debris travel through space at speeds of up to 18,000 miles per hour, posing a threat to operational spacecraft as well as humans aboard the International Space Station.
NASA has had to undertake at least 26 specific maneuvers to avoid orbital debris that has passed too close to the orbiting outpost during the space station’s lifespan.
Four astronauts on their way to the ISS in one of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules were alerted of a possible collision with space trash shortly after launch in April. However, the United States Space Command eventually confirmed that the alarm was erroneous and that the object was not in danger of crashing with the spacecraft.
Within the country that invented the technology, the Canadarm series of robotic arms has near-iconic status. Canadarm2 is featured on the back of the Canadian $5 bill, alongside Dextre and an astronaut.
The original Canadarm, which served the space shuttle program from 1981 to 2011, launched numerous satellites and space missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope, with one of the arms later converted into a robotic boom to aid in the search for broken tiles beneath the space shuttle.
Dextre, for its part, debuted in 2008 as a “handyman” for equipment or component installation and replacement, as well as a testbed for robotic technologies, based on the CSA’s website.
The Canadian government has announced plans for an improved Canadarm3 in 2019, which will act as a robotic, artificial intelligence-adaptive aide on NASA’s proposed Gateway space station. Canada’s robotic contributions enable the country to send astronauts and scientists into space on American hardware; the Canadarm3 pledge earned a commitment from NASA to send a Canadian on the Artemis 2 moon-orbiting mission.