A review has been launched after a warning to the four astronauts on the SpaceX capsule of a potential collision with orbiting space junk turned out to be a false alarm.
The astronauts onboard the craft were ordered back into their spacesuits because of the possible impact shortly after settling into orbit last Friday.
Lieutenant Colonel Erin Dick, a spokeswoman for Space Command, said at the time it was believed that an object was going to pass close to the capsule as it travels to the International Space Station.
She said: “However, we quickly realised this was a reporting error and that there was never a collision threat because there was no object at risk of colliding with the capsule.”
She declined to comment further, saying additional information should be available later this week. The false alarm is now under investigation.
Astronauts usually get a fair amount of notice of potential close calls, with enough time to move out of the way if necessary.
However, on Friday the situation popped up quickly with astronauts only getting half an hour warning.
The Space Command’s 18th Space Control Squadron alerted NASA about 45 minutes before the potential collision, according to officials at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
SpaceX and NASA notified the astronauts 15 minutes later, urging them to put on their suits right away and lower their helmet visors.
By then, there wasn’t enough time to change the capsule’s path, with the drama played out live on NASA TV.
The US, French and Japanese astronauts on the capsule had practised this many times before the flight, according to NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries.
“Of course, we’re always happy to hear that there never was a threat, but we’re also glad the procedures were in place and the crew would have been ready if the threat had been real,” he said.
The Dragon capsule and its crew safely reached the space station on 24 April, with no further surprises.
They will spend six months there.
In September 2020, astronauts abroad the ISS had to carry out an “avoidance manoeuvre” to prevent being hit by space junk.
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