Science | November 16, 2021 3:04 pm

Destroyed Satellite Causes Headaches in Orbit

Like that scene in "Gravity," but real

Exploded satellites can be a hazard up here.

Remember that scene in the movie Gravity when space debris, moving at unbelievable speeds, nearly caused a tragic end for Sandra Bullock’s character? We’re now seeing a real-life version of that play out — albeit without an astronaut floating in space and finding themselves in danger. Instead, it’s the International Space Station that faces an unexpected danger while orbiting the planet.

Writing at The Verge, Loren Grush has news of a Russian satellite destroyed by a ground-based missile. This wasn’t the precursor to an epic space battle; instead, the satellite was destroyed as part of a Russian test operation. But while the mission was a test, the space debris left behind is very real. And for the astronauts living onboard the ISS, that means that there’s a cloud of debris passing them every 90 minutes — which led to them having to shelter in place on Monday morning.

In comments made to reporters, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price spoke out against the test and its aftereffects. “This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities,” he said.

One of the astronauts stationed on board the ISS, Mark Vande Hei, alluded to “a crazy but well-coordinated day” in comments made to Mission Control.

This wasn’t the first test of its kind, and some earlier tests have also left debris that satellites and the ISS have had to be wary of. Given the growing interest in satellite internet services, it also remains to be seen how an increased number of satellites will coexist with a rising amount of orbital debris.