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This is what happens when the spacecraft reenters the Earth’s atmosphere




Credit: JAXA

Timing is everything when one of Russia’s Progress Supply Ships ships a dock from the International Space Station. Progress needs to launch the engine at the right time to cause deorbit combustion in order for the ship to enter the atmosphere in the right place, as a catastrophic re-entry occurs over the Pacific Ocean. That way, the potentially surviving pieces that could reach the Earth will hit far away from the earth where things we don’t want to hit, such as people and buildings, live.

Last week, the timing of the Progress MS-15 cargo ship was just right, so astronauts / astronauts on board the ISS could see the ship smash and burn out in the Earth’s atmosphere. Astronaut Soichi Noguchi of JAXA shared his opinion on social media.

“Goodbye, Progress 76P MS-15! #Russian unmanned spacecraft was undocked from the #ISS and burned normally,” Noguchi tweeted, sharing a photo of the fierce end of progress.

Goodbye, Progress 76P MS-15! The #Russian unmanned spacecraft, which was undocked from the #ISS, burned normally. ##

NOGUCHI, Soichi (@Astro_Soichi) February 9, 2021

The unmanned spacecraft has been in flight since 1978 and supports previous Soviet-era space stations such as Salyut 6, Salyut 7, and Mir. They have been carrying supplies to the ISS since the beginning of operation.

But now, the space station has some robotic automatic supply vessels. It is an automatic transfer vehicle (ATV) of the European Space Agency, an HTV supply ship of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), and a Cygnus cargo ship of Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK). SpaceX cargo dragon.

The ISS Progress 60 cargo ship can be seen in just minutes after docking with the International Space Station on July 5, 2015. Credit: NASA TV

These vessels carry food, water, replacement / spare parts, experimental supplies, propellants, and oxygen to the crew. After everything is unloaded, a ship like Progress becomes a trash can place to store trash and other unwanted items. The ship will remain docked on the ISS for approximately six months, after loading garbage and waste, the vehicle’s hatch will be closed and the progress will be undocked from the station. After that, the re-entry procedure will begin.

Progress is designed to burn in the atmosphere, but not all are completely flammable. In a press release, Roscosmos said Craftland’s non-combustible components “sink into unnavigable areas of the South Pacific.” Non-combustible structural elements drop into the calculated area of ​​the unnavigable area of ​​the Pacific Ocean Ocean. The estimated debris drop area is approximately 1,680 km east of Wellington (New Zealand). Roscosmos has completed all the steps necessary to flag this area as temporarily dangerous for sea navigation and aircraft flight. “

However, in addition to the cargo ships returning from the ISS, other man-made objects regularly end their lives by burning through the Earth’s atmosphere. Old, inactive satellites, rocket stages, other abandoned hardware, small space debris such as exploding or colliding vehicle debris, and even small paint stripped from space vehicles regularly in the Earth’s atmosphere. Burns out.

In this October 23, 2016 image, the International Space Station Canadarm2 robotic arm is capturing an orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft on its sixth mission to the station. Credit: NASA

All of these items, large and small, are tracked by radar by the Space Surveillance Network (SSN), which monitors radar and optical sensors at various sites around the world. Vandenberg Air Force Base is home to the Joint Space Operations Center (CSpOC), which is part of the US Strategic Command and ESA’s Space Debris team. They detect, track, and identify all objects in Earth’s orbit and monitor the potential for collisions with the International Space Station (ISS) and other NASA satellites.

Interestingly, on average, about one satellite hits Earth each week. Most are unmanaged entries and a kind of claps shoot as to where the surviving pieces fall. However, these violent re-entry are rarely seen. This is mainly because the earth is a large place and is mainly covered with water. Many of the things that fall will eventually fall into the sea. Another thing is that most of us don’t look up at the night sky very often.

However, these re-entries are sometimes seen by video surveillance cameras and dashcams. If the satellite or old rocket debris is large enough, you can see the debris falling off as the re-entry vehicle descends into the overheated shroud of the incandescent plasma. The ablation process begins at a height of about 100 km and usually completes by the time the object descends to about 20 km. (Additional information about space debris can be found here).

A traceable object in low earth orbit. Credit: The ESA Hayabusa spacecraft burned out when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere in 2010, but the capsule containing the sample survived. The glowing part at the bottom front of the debris stream is the sample capsule. Credit: NASA Ames

Of course, “naturally occurring” objects also fall into our atmosphere. Space rocks vary in size from dust particles to small asteroids. Often, looking at something steak across the night sky makes it difficult to tell the difference between a meteor and collapsing space debris.

And, of course, there are heat shields to protect spacecraft that you don’t want to collapse into the atmosphere, such as crew spacecraft, and even small ones, such as the return capsules of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft. But that’s another story on another day.

Russian cargo ship dock at the International Space Station offered by Universe today

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