What's left after punching a hole through spacecraft shielding

Space debris is a scary thing -- tiny objects become missiles that can destroy whole spacecraft. If you need proof, just take a look at the results of the European Space Agency's shield testing for its freighter, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). That gaping hole you see above is the result of shooting the ship's multi-layer Kevlar-Nextel fabric armor with an aluminum bullet traveling at 15,658MPH, a speed that's entirely possible for debris caught in orbit. The good news? As bad as this looks, the test was a resounding success; while the bullet tore through the shielding, it only scorched the aluminum wall underneath. When the last ATV visits the International Space Station this summer, astronauts won't have to worry that shrapnel from an ex-satellite will destroy their vital supplies.

[Image credit: ESA-Stijn Laagland]

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The Big Picture: Punching a hole in a (simulated) spacecraft