Russia said on Tuesday it had conducted a weapons test that targeted an old Russian satellite with "razor-sharp precision" and denied allegations by the United States, France and NATO that the test had been dangerous for orbiting spacecraft.
US officials said Monday's test had generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit that endangered the International Space Station (ISS) and that would pose a hazard to space activities for years.
The four Americans, one German and two Russians on board the ISS were forced to briefly seek shelter in their docked capsules because of debris released by the explosion.
At least 1,500 pieces of the destroyed satellite were sizeable enough to show up on radar and with telescopes, said the US State Department. Countless other fragments were too small to track, yet still posed a danger to the space station as well as orbiting satellites.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the test was reckless, posed a threat to the ISS and an orbiting Chinese spacecraft, and showed Russia was developing new weapons systems.
In a joint statement, France's defence and foreign ministries said the test was "destabilising, irresponsible and likely to have consequences for a very long time in the space environment and for all actors in space."
In an earlier tweet, French Defence Minister Florence Parly lashed out at “space vandals” who “generat[e] debris that pollutes and puts our astronauts and satellites in danger.”
Dismissing the criticism, Russia's defence ministry said the debris from the test had not posed a threat to the ISS, and that Washington knew this.
"We did indeed successfully test a promising system. It hit the old satellite with razor-sharp precision. The fragments that formed pose no threat to space activity," Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.
The target was a non-operational spacecraft, Tselina-D, that had been in orbit since 1982, the ministry said in a statement. It said the United States, China and India had conducted similar tests in the past.
The defence ministry said Russia was forced to beef up its defence capabilities because of weapons tests by the United States and Washington's decision to establish a space force in 2020.
Moscow said it had sought an agreement to stop weapons being deployed in space for years, but that Washington and its allies had blocked the deal at the United Nations.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)