The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is gearing up to launch a sensor on December 4 to measure space debris around the International Space Station (ISS).
The one square meter Space Debris Sensor (SDS) will travel on a SpaceX cargo mission and will be mounted on the exterior of the station.
Research from this investigation -- set to travel on a SpaceX cargo mission -- could help lower the risk to human life and critical hardware by orbital debris, NASA said.
"This one square metre sensor uses dual-layer thin films, an acoustic sensor system, a resistive grid sensor system and a sensored backstop to provide near-real-time impact detection and recording," NASA said.
The sensor uses dual-layer thin films, an acoustic sensor system, a resistive grid sensor system and a sensored backstop to provide near-real-time impact detection and recording, the US space agency said.
The research will also include investigation which will attempt to pull fibre optic wire from ZBLAN.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), as of January 2017, there's an estimated 29,000 pieces of space debris in Earth orbit that are larger than 10 centimetres wide, 750,000 objects down to 1 cm wide, and 166 million objects smaller than 1 cm. From their records, the US Space Surveillance Network regularly tracks 23,000 objects.
Back in April of 2013, when Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was commander of the ISS, he reported seeing a small hole in one of the station solar panels, due to some piece of debris.
Also, one of the windows of the space station's cupola, where the crew frequently take images of Earth, still sports a chip from a similar impact, as shown in this Tweet from ESA astronaut Tim Peake.
What is ZBLAN?
It is a heavy metal fluoride glass commonly used to make fibre optic glass. When ZBLAN is solidified on Earth, its atomic structure tends to form into crystals. Research indicates that ZBLAN fibre pulled in microgravity may not crystalise as much, giving it better optical qualities than the silica used in most fibre optic wire.
Results from this investigation could lead to the production of higher-quality fibre optic products both in space and on Earth.
According to Nasa, one more research to be sent to the ISS is the Rodent Research-6 (RR-6) investigation. It will examine a drug compound and drug delivery system designed to combat muscular breakdown in space or other times of disuse.
The implanted drug delivery chip will administer a compound meant to maintain muscle in a variety of disuse conditions, including microgravity. The results from the RR-6 investigations will help researchers to understand how to maintain a healthy body structure in the absence of gravity.