A piece of space junk smashed into the International Space Station (ISS) and damaged the orbiting lab's robotic arm, according to the Canadian Space Agency and NASA.
A puncture in the arm's protective thermal covering was noticed during a routine inspection on May 12, but the nearly 60-foot robotic appendage remains functional, officials from the Canadian Space Agency confirmed.
“Experts from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and NASA worked together to take detailed images of the area and assess the impact, which occurred on one of Canadarm2’s boom segments,” CSA officials said in a recent blog post, reported the Hill.
“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,” CSA said.
“Canadarm2 is continuing to conduct its planned operations,” the agency said.
The collision highlights the growing threat posed by orbital debris as the narrow band of space around Earth becomes increasingly crowded with satellites, spent rocket parts, other wayward objects and materials left behind by humans.
Experts have noted the problem is magnified by society's dependence on satellite systems for telecommunications, GPS and other everyday modern conveniences.
The U.S. Department of Defense tracks more than 27,000 pieces of space junk, including approximately 23,000 objects larger than a softball. These bits of debris fly through orbit at up to 18,000 miles per hour, posing a threat to functioning spacecraft and a safety risk to astronauts aboard the International Space Station, according to NBC News.
Over the course of the space station's history, NASA has had to perform at least 26 special maneuvers to dodge orbital debris that passed too close to the orbiting outpost.
In April, four astronauts enroute to the ISS in one of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsules were warned of a potential collision with space junk shortly after they launched into orbit. The U.S. Space Command later confirmed, however, that it was a false alarm, and the object was not at risk of colliding with the spacecraft.
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