Over 27000 pieces of orbital debris or space junk exists in the near-Earth space environment. It not only poses danger to spaceflight and robotic missions but increases potential damage risks to International Space Station (ISS). Of late, a piece of space debris hit and damaged a part of the ISS’s robotic arm aka the Canadarm2. The robotic arm has suffered a puncture in its thermal blanket and damage to its boom. Luckily, the damage didn't cause long-term issues. Astronomers first noticed the damage on May 12 during an inspection. Later, both NASA and CSA mission managers assed the damage and confirmed that the arm’s functions won’t be impacted and it will still remain operational.
Designed by Canadian Space Agency, Canadarm2 is officially called the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS). The titanium robotic arm’s primary function is to move objects outside the station and to help in maintaining and repairing works in the station. It has been two decades that the arm is operational with the ISS.
The ISS orbits about 200 miles above the planet, in low-Earth orbit. The region is popular for launching many small satellites and that is why it is scattered with an ample amount of space trash.
According to CSA blog post, more than 23000 pieces have always been tracked by NASA to prevent any collision with the space station, but sometimes, the smallest objects ranging from dust particles to fleck of paints remain unmonitored. CSA further informed that Canadarm2 is continuing to conduct its planned operations. But both, NASA CSA will continue to gather data in order for a detailed analysis of the incident to assess future risk.
In 2019, the Canadian government announced plans for launching advanced Canadarm3 that would serve as a robotic, artificial intelligence-adaptive assistant on NASA's planned Gateway space station. Canadarm3 will comprise the main arm to do large-scale work for repairs and spacewalks and a smaller arm to carry out dexterous robotics tasks on the space station.