China's Tiangong space station suffers damage from debris strike

China's Tiangong space station encountered damage during the Shenzhou 17 mission
An undated image of Chinas Space Station Tiangong — Space
An undated image of China's Space Station Tiangong — Space

China's Tiangong space station encountered damage during the Shenzhou 17 mission, caused by debris in Earth's orbit. The incident, discovered during a spacewalk this winter, led to a partial loss of power supply after debris struck the station's solar panels.

Astronauts on the Shenzhou 17 mission conducted two spacewalks outside the Tiangong space station this winter, with the most recent occurring on March 1. It was during these spacewalks that the damage to Tiangong was observed, emphasizing the hazards of space debris to orbiting structures.

According to reports from the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), the damage sustained by Tiangong was minor, although the exact cause, whether from micrometeoroids or human activity, remains unspecified.

In response to the incident, CMSA plans to bolster efforts to address space debris threats, including improving orbit forecasting capabilities and optimizing collision warning procedures.

Space debris poses a significant risk to space infrastructure, including both Tiangong and the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS has undergone numerous course-correction manoeuvres to evade debris, with NASA reporting 32 corrections made since 1999 to avoid satellites and space junk.

Following the incident, China launched the Shenzhou 18 mission on April 25, carrying three astronauts to Tiangong. Their tasks include conducting video scrutiny of the space station using its robotic arm and installing components to enhance protection against space debris during spacewalks.

Despite the challenges posed by space debris, CMSA remains committed to safeguarding Tiangong and ensuring the safety of astronauts onboard. Further efforts to monitor and mitigate space debris threats are expected as China continues its space exploration endeavours.