Monday, 3 April 2017

The ISS Fabric Shield accidentally released from the ISS imaged in orbit

On March 30, 2017, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson conducted an EVA from the International Space Station to prepare a new docking port and install new equipment on the outside of the ISS.

click to enlarge

During this spacewalk, they accidentally released a 1.5 x 0.6 meter large protective Fabric Shield, a shield against micrometeoroids that was one of four to have been installed that day on one of Tranqility module's ports. Somehow it got loose  and floated away in space, before the astronauts were able to retrieve it. Oopsy!

Once floating free in space, and having become space debris, it was catalogued by JSpOC as object nr. 42434, 1998-067LF.

The image above shows the shield, imaged from Leiden last night during a zenith pass with an 1.4/85 mm lens. It is faint and was almost exactly a minute in front of the ISS. It seemed steady in brightness on the 3 images I obtained (spanning an arc of 15 seconds in time).

Here is a screencap of the moment the object floated away during the EVA, somehow having come loose of its tether:

click to enlarge

The image below shows the ISS, a minute later (bright stars are kappa and iota UMa):

The accidentally released Fabric Shield has a relatively large surface relative to its weight [added edit: it weights 8 kg and measures 1.5 x 0.6 meter], which means it will quickly decay and re-enter, probably within 5 to 6 months from now.

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