Spacewalking astronaut loses mirror, newest space junk

Lost in space! US astronaut on the International Space Station loses small mirror from his suit during spacewalk - adding to the 170 MILLION pieces of space junk orbiting the earthAn astronaut repairi

Spacewalking astronaut loses mirror, newest space junk

Lost in space! US astronaut on the International Space Station loses small mirror from his suit during spacewalk - adding to the 170 MILLION pieces of space junk orbiting the earth

  • An astronaut repairing a battery installation on the ISS lost a piece of his suit
  • A small mirror used to help increase visibility fell off his wrist
  • The mirror couldn't be saved and drifted into orbit around Earth 

A spacewalking astronaut added to the millions of pieces of junk orbiting the Earth on Friday when he lost a small mirror as soon as he stepped out of the International Space Station for battery work.

Commander Chris Cassidy said the mirror floated away at about a foot per second, after it somehow became detached from his spacesuit. 

According to NASA, the lost item posed no risk to either the spacewalk or the station.

This photo provided by NASA shows NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and NASA Flight Engineer Bob Behnken during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Friday

This photo provided by NASA shows NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and NASA Flight Engineer Bob Behnken during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Friday

While millions of pieces of space debris orbit Earth, more than 20,000 items including old rocket parts and busted satellites are big enough to be tracked in order to safeguard the space station and functional satellites.

Spacewalking astronauts wear a five-inch-by-three-inch wrist mirror on each sleeve to get better views while working.

The mirror came loose in darkness and went unnoticed by Cassidy until he later inspected his sleeve after entering a more sunlit part of the space station exterior. 

'There´s no thread damage or anything like that,' he told Mission Control.

Cassidy and Bob Behnken, who followed him out without mishap, conducted the first of at least four spacewalks to replace the last bunch of old station batteries.

Once the six new lithium-ion batteries are installed, the orbiting lab should be good for the rest of its operational life, according to NASA. 

Cassidy and Behnken conducting the first of at least four spacewalks to replace the last bunch of old station batteries. (NASA via AP)

Cassidy and Behnken conducting the first of at least four spacewalks to replace the last bunch of old station batteries. (NASA via AP)

The big, boxy batteries - more powerful and efficient than the old nickel-hydrogen batteries coming out - keep the station humming when it's on the night side of Earth.

The battery replacements began in 2017, with previous crews putting in 18 lithium-ion batteries, half as many as the old ones replaced.

Cassidy and Behnken have six more to plug in before the job is complete. It's cumbersome work: Each battery is about a yard (meter) tall and wide, with a mass of 400 pounds (180 kilograms).

Their spacewalks are expected to continue through July before Behnken returns to Earth in August aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

Behnken and Doug Hurley made history at the end of May with SpaceX's first astronaut launch.

This was the seventh spacewalk for both men. Each has spent more than 30 hours out in the vacuum of space.

WHAT IS SPACE JUNK? MORE THAN 170 MILLION PIECES OF DEAD SATELLITES, SPENT ROCKETS AND FLAKES OF PAINT POSE 'THREAT' TO SPACE INDUSTRY

There are an estimated 170 million pieces of so-called 'space junk' - left behind after missions that can be as big as spent rocket stages or as small as paint flakes - in orbit alongside some US$700 billion (£555bn) of space infrastructure.

But only 22,000 are tracked, and with the fragments able to travel at speeds above 16,777 mph (27,000kmh), even tiny pieces could seriously damage or destroy satellites.

However, traditional gripping methods don't work in space, as suction cups do not function in a vacuum and temperatures are too cold for substances like tape and glue.

Grippers based around magnets are useless because most of the debris in orbit around Earth is not magnetic.

Around 500,000 pieces of human-made debris (artist's impression) currently orbit our planet, made up of disused satellites, bits of spacecraft and spent rockets

Most proposed solutions, including debris harpoons, either require or cause forceful interaction with the debris, which could push those objects in unintended, unpredictable directions.

Scientists point to two events that have badly worsened the problem of space junk.

The first was in February 2009, when an Iridium telecoms satellite and Kosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite, accidentally collided.

The second was in January 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite weapon on an old Fengyun weather satellite.

Experts also pointed to two sites that have become worryingly cluttered.

One is low Earth orbit which is used by satnav satellites, the ISS, China's manned missions and the Hubble telescope, among others.

The other is in geostationary orbit, and is used by communications, weather and surveillance satellites that must maintain a fixed position relative to Earth. 

 

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