Half a ton of waste from the International Space Station will crash into Earth

A 2.9-ton cargo platform, which was used for a critical battery upgrade mission on the International Space Station (ISS), is now nearing the end of its journey and is expected to reenter Earth's atmosphere in the coming days.

The platform, launched from the International Space Station in March 2021 by the reliable Canadarm2, faces imminent destruction in Earth's atmosphere after three years of serving its purpose in a major battery replacement project on the station. According to Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer Jonathan McDowell, the billet “will not completely burn up upon return — about a half-ton of fragments will likely reach the Earth's surface,” McDowell says. male On X.

It is the end of the orbital route The heaviest piece of space junk from the International Space Station, which was gradually falling towards the ground like a fly being sucked into the kitchen sink. According to McDowell, the cargo platform's expected reentry into Earth's atmosphere will be between March 8 at 7:30 a.m. ET and March 9 at 3:30 a.m. ET. The exact location of re-entry is unknown.

The pallet was “the largest object – by mass – ever jettisoned from the International Space Station at 2.9 tons, more than twice the mass of the early ammonia service system tank jettisoned by astronaut Clay Anderson during the STS-118 mission in 2007.” NASA spokeswoman Leah Cheshire told Gizmodo in March 2021 that the platform was approximately 265 miles (427 kilometers) above the Earth's surface when it was launched.

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The pallet's journey began with a mission to upgrade the power system on the International Space Station. In May 2020, a Japanese cargo ship docked at the International Space Station, delivering an SUV-sized equipment platform to help astronauts replace old nickel-hydrogen batteries with new, more efficient lithium-ion batteries. This upgrade was part of a larger effort, which culminated in a spacewalk on February 1, 2021, by astronauts Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover. This mission included four supply missions from Japan's H-II Space Transport Vehicle (HTV), 13 different astronauts, 14 spacewalks, and saw the replacement of 48 nickel-hydrogen batteries with 24 lithium-ion batteries over the course of six years. These batteries store the energy collected by the station's solar arrays.

The outer pallet is fired by Canadarm2.

The outer pallet is fired by Canadarm2.
picture: NASA

However, uncontrolled disposal of the pallet was not part of the original plan. This became necessary due to the yet-disabled spacewalk schedule A Soyuz rocket launch failed in 2018Which forced NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos astronaut Alexei Ovchinin to make an emergency landing in the Kazakh steppe. This event led to a backlog of work in disposing of this equipment. Normally, old batteries are placed inside the HTV vehicle and discarded from the ISS to burn up upon return.

However, in late 2018, the HTV departed without this battery platform due to rescheduled spacewalks. With the battery replacement mission ongoing, and with no more HTVs of the old design expected to arrive (they are being replaced by the HTV-X cargo spacecraft), the decision was made to dispose of the pallet independently.

Which brings us to suspended and uncontrolled re-entry. It represents the conclusion to this story — assuming the falling pieces don't hurt anyone or damage any property — but it serves as a reminder of the challenges and complexities inherent in managing and adapting space missions.

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