The International Space Station (ISS) changed course Friday to avoid a possible collision with a piece of an old Pegasus rocket. A chunk of that old rocket, which broke apart two years after the United States launched it into Earth’s orbit in 1994, was on track to pass close to the ISS Friday morning. NASA and Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, monitored the chunk throughout Monday, eventually deciding they needed to move the space station.
Friday’s maneuver isn’t uncommon — it’s not even the first space-junk scare this week.
On Tuesday, NASA postponed a spacewalk after detecting debris that would pass near the ISS while two astronauts were supposed to be outside replacing a broken antenna system. Without time to assess the risk, NASA rescheduled the spacewalk, later determining the passing space junk wouldn’t have posed a danger to the astronauts.
Two weeks ago, on November 15, Russia blew up one of its old satellites with a missile, doubling the amount of debris orbiting Earth near the ISS, according to a NASA official. NASA said it had no indication that Tuesday’s debris came from Russia’s explosion, but didn’t rule out the possibility.
Space junk is also a problem for private companies. This week, Elon Musk said SpaceX changed the orbit of some of its Starlink satellites in order to avoid debris.