April 16, 2024

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Grab a helmet because the International Space Station's decommissioned batteries are returning to Earth. Record

Grab a helmet because the International Space Station's decommissioned batteries are returning to Earth.  Record

A batch of used batteries from the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled to reenter Earth's atmosphere sometime the next day, and some parts of its 2.6 metric tons of mass will likely hit Earth.

The platform contains nine batteries in total and was launched from the International Space Station on January 11, 2021. according to ESA's Space Debris Office, entry is expected at 17:56 UTC on 8 March. However, the date and time currently have an uncertainty of 0.4 days, making the reentry location difficult to determine until the time approaches.

ISS battery platform (Image: JSC)

“Reentry will occur between -51.6 degrees south and 51.6 degrees north,” ESA said. This is a very large area, but it points to the challenges inherent in predicting a “normal” return.

This does not mean that eliminating batteries was the original intent. Between 2017 and 2020, aging nickel-hydrogen power modules previously used on the International Space Station had to be replaced with more powerful lithium-ion modules. The old batteries are installed on the cargo pads of Japanese HTV cargo planes, which will then depart the ISS and make a controlled re-entry.

Some components may survive re-entry into the atmosphere, but the use of HTV means managers can target waste for disposal in an unoccupied area.

Unfortunately, the failure of Soyuz in 2018 crippled business. NASA's Tyler “Nick” Hague was aboard the ill-fated Soyuz spacecraft when it had to abort its launch mid-flight with both Hague and Russian Alexei Ovchinin on board. While the Russian spacecraft's crew survived the accident after the crew capsule separated and ballistic back to Earth, The Hague's plans to assist in the battery exchange had to be put on hold.

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This meant that the HTV freighter that brought the new batteries had to leave the station without the old ones, resulting in a freight platform remaining after the HTV program ended in 2020 with HTV-9. The program's replacement, HTV-X, is not scheduled to begin supply operations to the ISS until 2025.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell male It is likely that approximately half a ton of debris will reach the Earth's surface. While the likelihood of the debris causing any injuries is small, German authorities, for example, deemed it necessary to issue a warning to citizens, although they also… He agreed “The probability of debris falling on Germany is considered very low.”

Holger Krage, head of ESA's Space Safety Program Office, told German News Service Tagesschau“It's best to never touch a piece of debris, but these batteries used in space are no different than the ones we use on Earth. So this doesn't pose any major risk.”

“When we talk about danger, we're talking more about the mechanical danger that comes from just the object falling.”

Warning of “possibility of luminous phenomena or perception of sonic boom,” which makes it all sound very exciting.

Hopefully, when the time comes to return the ISS itself to Earth, things will be more manageable. ®