Satellites Space

In an ASAT test, Russia damages a satellite

In an intentional test of the Russian anti-satellite device, a Russian satellite broke apart in low Earth orbit, resulting in thousands of bits of debris. According to government and commercial tracking data, the satellite Cosmos-1408 looks to have split up late November 14 or early November 15 Eastern time. The satellite, which weighed over 2,000 kilograms and was launched in 1982, was last detected in a 485-kilometer orbit.

The satellite was damaged by an ASAT, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price. At a November 15 State Department briefing, he said, “The Russian Federation irresponsibly conducted a catastrophic satellite test of the direct-ascent anti-satellite rocket against its satellites.” “The test has resulted in approximately 1,500 pieces of quantifiable orbital debris plus hundreds of hundreds of pieces of lesser orbital junk, which now pose a threat to all nations.”

The test will “seriously raise the risk to cosmonauts and astronauts on the ISS (International Space Station), as well as other human spaceflight activities,” he noted. Because of a “debris cloud,” the seven people aboard the International Space Station were told to stay in their Crew Dragon as well as Soyuz spaceships for around two hours on November 15. The debris cloud has made multiple close passes to the station since then, but no damage has been reported. Later in the day, the station’s crew resumed certain operations, though areas of the station remain locked off as a pre-caution against any potential repercussions.

The crew was forced to shelter in the day because of debris from the Russian ASAT trial, NASA verified in a separate statement hours after State Department reported it. In a statement, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, “Like Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken, I’m disturbed by this foolish and destabilizing behavior.” “It is inconceivable that Russia would imperil not only American and global partner astronauts on ISS but also their cosmonauts, given its long and illustrious history in human spaceflight.” He went on to say that the debris also poses a threat to China’s space station.

“Russia’s reckless and irresponsible activity jeopardizes the long-term viability of outer space,” Price said, “and clearly indicates that Russia’s claims to oppose space weaponization are dishonest and hypocritical.”

When asked afterward if the US would make a professional diplomatic protest, Price responded that the US has “talked to senior Russian officials numerous times to caution them of the recklessness and danger of such a test.” He refused to comment on any “particular steps” that the US government or allies might take in reaction to the test.

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Krzysztof Stanowicz

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