US says Russia 'recklessly' destroyed a satellite with a missile, creating debris that could threaten the International Space Station

·3-min read
NASA International Space Station
NASA
  • Russia destroyed a satellite with an anti-satellite missile early Monday.

  • The US condemned the test, which it says created dangerous debris fields.

  • The condemnation came after the International Space Station crew had to shelter in response to a space debris threat.

Russia destroyed one of its satellites in a test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile early Monday, the US Department of State said Monday afternoon.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at a press briefing Russia "recklessly" carried out the "destructive" test, generating more than 1,500 pieces of larger, trackable space debris and hundreds of thousands of smaller pieces of debris that "will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station."

"Russia's dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of our outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia's claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical," he added.

The department spokesman said that the US will work with its allies and partners to respond appropriately.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a separate briefing that the Defense Department shares these concerns, stating that "the most immediate concern is the debris itself," which could become a hazard to the ISS.

These remarks follow a statement from US Space Command earlier in the day acknowledging a "debris-generating event."

US Space Command said that it "is aware of a debris-generating event in outer space," adding that it "is actively working to characterize the debris field and will continue to ensure all space-faring nations have the information necessary to maneuver satellites if impacted."

Private space tracking and data analysis firm Seradata said that the Russian ASAT test appeared to have struck the dead Soviet satellite Kosmos-1408, a Tselina-D satellite launched in the early 1980s as part of a constellation of intelligence gathering assets, The War Zone reported.

Following the State Department and Pentagon briefings, US Space Command issued a more lengthy statement, revealing that the ASAT test destroyed COSMOS-1408, a Soviet Tselina-D intelligence satellite launched in the early 1980s.

"Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, and stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations," US Army Gen. James Dickinson, the command head, said in a statement.

"The debris created by Russia's DA-ASAT will continues to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk," he added.

US concerns that the cloud of space debris from the anti-satellite weapon test, which involved a ground-launched missile designed to eliminate satellites in low-earth orbit, could threaten the ISS and the seven people on the space station appear to be well founded.

Early Monday morning, the crew of the ISS was forced to take shelter in their Dragon and Soyuz evacuation spacecraft in response to the sudden appearance of potentially dangerous space debris. The US government did not state specifically that the debris threatening the ISS was from the Russian test, though the timing of these developments is noteworthy.

There are tens of millions of pieces of space junk orbiting the planet, and when things collide, more debris explodes outward at high speeds. These pieces, both large and small, pose a threat to systems like the ISS and other human space activities.

Anti-satellite weapons tests exacerbate an already serious problem. For instance, The New York Times reported last week that the the International Space Station had to maneuver to avoid a piece of space junk generated by a 2007 anti-satellite weapon test conducted by China.

Monday's test was not Russia's first anti-satellite weapons test. The country has conducted others, including a space-based test last year in which a Russian satellite released a projectile. The head of US Space Command said at the time that "it has the potential to create a dangerous situation in space."

Update: This post was updated with information and comments from the most recent US Space Command sattement.

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