NEW YORK — Unexpectedly strong vibrations that rattled the international space station (ISS) last month during a routine orbit-boosting maneuver did not damage the $100 billion orbital outpost or otherwise compromise its 15-year design lifetime, NASA officials said Feb. 4.
The vibrations on Jan. 14 occurred during what was expected to be a routine Russian thruster firing to boost the space station into a higher orbit in preparation for the arrival this month of a Russian Progress ship and the Space Shuttle Discovery. During the two-minute, 22-second maneuver, sensors aboard the space station picked up vibrations that exceeded acceptable limits.
Michael Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager, said Feb. 3 that a subsequent analysis has shown that the vibrations did not shorten the orbiting lab’s 15-year design lifetime. Space station flight controllers, however, did cancel another planned thruster firing slated for Feb. 4 pending more study.
Space station commander Michael Fincke of NASA said the Jan. 14 vibrations shook objects loose from the walls during a scheduled engine burn, but it did not immediately spark concerns over the health of the spacecraft.
“Fortunately, the results of the analysis so far shows that we haven’t hurt the space station,” Fincke told reporters during a Feb. 5 video teleconference. “But we certainly could have, so we’re definitely going to be very careful next time.”
NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries said Russian flight controllers canceled the planned Feb. 4 thruster firing after determining the space station was properly positioned to jettison its garbage-filled Progress ship in preparation for the Feb. 13 arrival of a fresh, supply-laded Progress.
Humphries said canceling the Feb. 4 burn also will require Russia to postpone by one day the planned March 25 launch of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying the outpost’s next crew and American space tourist Charles Simonyi.
The international space station is currently home to Expedition 18 commander Fincke, fellow NASA astronaut and flight engineer Sandra Magnusand Russian flight engineer YuryLonchakov. Magnus is slated to return home later this month after her replacement, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, arrives aboard Discovery.