FIGURE 2–2 Comparison of meteoroid and debris flux in ISS orbit. Source: NASA.

An object striking a spacecraft at 10 km/s can cause several types of damage. Impacts can crater or perforate surfaces, create petaled holes and cracks, or cause the back surfaces of walls to spall, sending material from the back of the wall into the spacecraft. If an object penetrates the wall of a spacecraft, its remnants (often fragmented or liquefied) will travel into the spacecraft and be deposited over an area significantly larger than the impact hole. The momentum of the impact can cause impulsive damage, including bending and buckling of structural components and the transmission of a traveling shock wave through the spacecraft’s structure and components (NRC, 1995). Depending on the size of the hole and the amount of energy released into a pressurized area (such as the shuttle crew cabin or a Spacelab module) a variety of phenomena could occur, including a strong acoustic shock wave, an intense flash of light that could temporarily incapacitate crew members, and a decrease in air pressure, which could cause rapid changes in temperature, an internal fog, and the eventual depressurization of the module (NRC, 1997; Serrano et al., 1996).

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