China’s Tiangong space station damaged by debris strike

Chinese Space Station Tiangong orbits the Earth. Photo: Getty Images

Chinese Space Station Tiangong orbits the Earth. Photo: Getty Images

By Elizabeth Howell,
Published by, 24 April 2024

Astronauts repaired the damage during two spacewalks this winter.

China will beef up its space debris procedures for astronauts after a partial loss of power on its Tiangong space station, according to state media.

Astronauts on the Shenzhou 17 mission conducted two spacewalks outside the Tiangong space station this winter, most recently on March 1. At the time, Chinese media said there had been a partial (but minor) loss of power supply after the outpost’s solar panels suffered a debris strike.

These spacewalks were a success, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said Wednesday (April 24) in a press conference reported by the state-run media outlet Xinhua. The agency also plans to do more in the future to guard against space debris issues in orbit.

Shenzhou 17 astronauts perform a spacewalk to fix solar arrays on the Tiangong space station on March 1, 2024. (Image credit: CMSA)

“The space station’s core module Tianhe had suffered a partial loss of power supply due to the impact of the space debris on the solar wing’s power cables,” Xinhua reported, paraphrasing CMSA deputy director Lin Xiqiang.

Related: Watch Chinese astronauts fix Tiangong space station solar wing in 8-hour spacewalk (video)

Xinhua did not specify if the debris was from micrometeoroids or from human activity in space. Both debris types pose threats to Tiangong as well as the International Space Station (ISS). 

Human-generated orbital debris is growing: the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracks more than 43,000 overall space objects as of April 2024, according to As for active satellites, there are more than 7,500 as of May 2023, according to the Union for Concerned Scientists — most of them members of SpaceX’s giant Starlink broadband megaconstellation.

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