# ISS impacts by space debris

Is there something that tracks the locations of space debris impacts, and how big the debris or damage is?

• fyi the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module has something like that, but here you are asking about the whole ISS. Interesting question! – uhoh Aug 24 '17 at 2:28
• This is an excellent question! i would love to see a list of the debris impacts on the ISS. Haven't managed to find one, yet. – Polygnome Aug 24 '17 at 8:41
• The reason I ask is because I'm in a class at ASU and we have to pick a 'pollution' problem. I picked space debris. I was trying to narrow down my choice by seeing how detrimental the debris is to the space station, like how many times it's impacted. The final project output will be an infographic. I was hoping to use the ISS outline with impact notations. Maybe I should switch to a space shuttle instead, that has been visually checked for impacts after its flight, etc? I haven't been able to find anything about the ISS in regards to debris strikes. – Meccattack Aug 24 '17 at 17:34
• The ISS has been struck thousands upon thousands of times. Several times per hour on average. Most of those strikes don't matter. Some of them do. Most of the debris is too small to track, so we have to build shields to protect critical hardware. Some of the debris that is too small to track is too big to shield against. That's what keeps us up at night. – Tristan Aug 24 '17 at 20:55

To the extent that there is something that tracks the locations of impacts, that "something" would be me, along with a small handful of other people spread across a few teams: MMOD, EVA, Imagery analysis, and a few dedicated hardware and system owners.

Generally speaking, our only way of tracking debris strikes that are too small to cause significant anomalies or system failures (i.e., nearly all of the strikes) is downlinked imagery. A technique that was common during shuttle but is all-but-nonexistent these days is direct returned surface inspection -- in my five years in the field, I've examined one piece of returned hardware.

For the most part, we only track the location of strikes for which there exists a decent potential of affecting station operations or if the location of the strikes will help us fingerprint individual hardware elements that are otherwise virtually indistinguishable in imagery. Strikes into "dumb structure" are usually ignored unless they are very large.

I know this isn't a super adequate answer right now, but I'd be willing to expand on any followup questions you may add in comments.

• I wonder if the verb "track" should be better defined. Is there some passive collection or list of impacts that have been noticed in whichever way it might be possible? They may not be tracked, but they might be at least noted. Video or photographic imagery perhaps? For example, if the number of impacts per year suddenly increased, that might warrant looking into. Among its many amazing functions, the ISS is a giant impact collector (in m^2 sec), much more surface area than anything else. – uhoh Aug 24 '17 at 13:52
• Perhaps so, but I will leave it to the OP to clarify what is meant. Aside from a couple technology demonstration items, there really isn't an operational strike detection/tracking system. Pretty much the best way to monitor the trends in the number of strikes over time is through imagery, with some assistance from telemetry (which doesn't indicate strikes directly -- a hardware failure or "funny" indicated in telemetry might suggest an area worthy of closer inspection, however). – Tristan Aug 24 '17 at 14:02

According to the Motherboard article The ISS Is Getting a New Camera to Check Itself for Space Debris Damage; The $1.7-million vision system will launch in 2020, and is 'roughly the size of a microwave oven.' this may be more carefully addressed in the future. On Thursday, the Government of Canada and the Canadian Space Agency announced a new CAD$1.7 million "vision system" that will be able to regularly scan the ISS for damage at a degree not previously possible, and is slated to launch in 2020.

"The vision system will use a combination of three sensors—a 3D [LIDAR] laser, a high-definition camera, and an infrared camera—to support the inspection and maintenance of the ageing infrastructure of the International Space Station," a release accompanying the announcement reads.

It is being developed by a Canadian company, Neptec Design Group Ltd., which previously worked with NASA on the development of a prototype lunar rover, Artemis Jr.

The article continues:

The system will be attached to Dextre, another Canadian Space Agency robot, that performs maintenance and repairs on the exterior of the space station. At present, the space station is examined using cameras already attached to Canadarm2—the station's robotic arm—and Dextre, from photos taken by crew inside the ISS, as well as photos taken during spacewalks.

While it is unclear how, exactly, the vision system will function in practice, the addition of LIDAR and Infrared sensors could allow for more accurate 3D scans that could identify physical changes to the station's surface—similar to how a self-driving car uses such sensors to examine the world around it.

There's a bit of good news, too, for fans of NASA's ever-growing trove of freely accessible photography: "The system's imagery will be available to the public," the Canadian Space Agency said, "who will see the ISS as they have never seen it before."

below: "A render of the Canadian Space Agency's newly announced vision system, mounted on the agency's maintenance robot Dextre." Image: Canadian Space Agency

• DDVS!! I was part of some discussions a couple years ago on what forms of imagery were desired for this to have, and I haven't heard much about the project since then. Sounds like it's still on track. Wish it could get here sooner. Fun fact: Neptec makes the TriDAR sensor used by Cygnus for proximity operations. Here are a couple videos from a TriDAR test carried on STS-135 -- rendezvous: youtube.com/watch?v=tr1GrjArdFk -- departure: youtube.com/watch?v=RCnHmrJspW8 – Tristan Jun 13 '18 at 14:50
• @Tristan those are really beautiful, thanks! – uhoh Jun 13 '18 at 14:56
• Neptec built a Laser Camera System that was part of the orbiter's inspection boom system used to check out the heat shield on-orbit. amerisurv.com/PDF/… – Organic Marble Jun 13 '18 at 19:30