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Space junk hits International Space Station, puts small hole in robotic arm

The Canadian Space Agency, which supplies the robotic arm, called the hole a “lucky strike,” given the relatively small size of the arm.
Credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency
Space junk puts small hole in Canadarm2, a robotic arm used on the International Space Station.

More than 23,000 objects the size of a softball or larger are tracked around the clock to detect potential collisions with the International Space Station (ISS). 

There are also a large number of tiny objects, such as rock or dust particles to flecks of paint from satellites, that are too small to be monitored.

Some piece of space junk recently struck and punched a tiny hole in one of the robotic arms of the ISS. Thankfully, the hole is only 5 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA), which supplied the arm as part of its contribution to the ISS, confirmed on May 28, 2021 that a piece of space debris hit the Canadarm2, creating a noticeable hole in the arm. 

The Canadarm2 has been in service in orbit since 2001. A routine inspection on May 12 revealed the hole, CSA said, adding that near-term operations “should not be affected.”

CSA says, “Despite the impact, 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.”

NASA explains that Canadarm2 lends a helping hand to performing Station maintenance, moving supplies, equipment and even astronauts and performing "cosmic catches" by grappling visiting vehicles and berthing them to the ISS.

Canadarm2 can be controlled by astronauts on board the ISS. It can also be operated by the ground team at the CSA headquarters or NASA.

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