Destabilizing speculation

Russia destroys satellite in ASAT test


Updated 6:20 p.m. EST with the NASA statement.

LAS VEGAS – A Russian satellite shattered in low Earth orbit during a deliberate test of a Russian anti-satellite device that created thousands of debris.

The satellite, Cosmos-1408, appears to have ruptured in late November 14 or early November 15 eastern time, according to business and government tracking data. The satellite, weighing around 2,000 kilograms, was launched in 1982 and, now defunct, was last tracked in an orbit about 485 kilometers high.

State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed that the satellite was destroyed by an ASAT. “The Russian Federation recklessly carried out a destructive satellite test of a direct-ascension anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites,” he said at a State Department briefing on Nov. 15. “The test has so far generated more than 1,500 traceable orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of smaller orbital debris that now threatens the interests of all nations.”

He added that the test “will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as other manned space flight activities.”

In early November 15, the seven people aboard the ISS were ordered to take shelter in their Crew Dragon and Soyuz vehicles due to a “debris cloud” that remained in their vehicles for about two hours. . This debris cloud has since made several other close approaches to the station, although no damage has been reported. The station crew resumed some operations later in the day, although parts of the station remain closed as a precaution against any impact.

Hours after the State Department announced the Russian ASAT test, NASA confirmed in a separate statement that it was debris from this event that forced the crew to take cover earlier in the day. .

“As secretary [of State Antony] Blinken, I am outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action, ”NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in the statement. “With its long and rich history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts aboard the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts.” The debris, he added, also threatens the Chinese space station.

“Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims to oppose the militarization of space are spurious and hypocritical,” Price said.

Asked later whether the United States would file a formal diplomatic protest, Price said the United States had “repeatedly spoken to senior Russian officials to warn them of the irresponsibility and dangerousness of ‘such a test’. He declined to comment on “specific measures” the US government or those of its allies would take in response to the test.

“Russia has shown a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations,” said Gen. James Dickinson, commander of US Space Command, in a statement. November 15 press release. “Russia’s direct-ascension anti-satellite weapon tests clearly demonstrate that Russia continues to seek counter-space weapon systems that undermine strategic stability and pose a threat to all nations.”

The British government has also spoken out against the test. “This destructive anti-satellite missile test by Russia shows complete disregard for the safety, security and sustainability of outer space,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement. “The debris resulting from this test will remain in orbit, putting satellites and human spaceflight at risk for years to come.”

Prior to the State Department’s statement, there was plenty of speculation that Cosmos-1408 had been the victim of an ASAT test, particularly notices to aviators filed by the Russians for a rocket launch from Plesetsk compatible with a test. ASAT direct ascension.

“We are following this Cosmos-1408 event. Where there was a satellite, we now see six radar detections, which could be individual objects, debris, or clouds of debris, ”said Dan Ceperley, CEO of LeoLabs, hours before the department’s statement. of state. The company later said it was seeing at least 30 separate objects.

He later said his company’s ground radars tracked Cosmos-1408 as a single object three times a day until it detected multiple objects at 11:20 a.m. EST on November 15, suggesting that the object broke in the last day.

Ceperley was speaking at a panel on space awareness at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics ASCEND conference here on November 15. Other panelists also spoke, calling the incident “unfortunate” by increasing the LEO debris population.

“We had the Chinese ASAT in 2007. It has been our nemesis for a long time. It looks like we have another one now. That’s not what we need to do, ”said Bill Gerstenmaier, vice president of construction and flight reliability at SpaceX and longtime former head of manned space flight programs at NASA.

This 2007 Chinese ASAT test created debris that continues to pose a danger to satellites and the International Space Station. Last week, the station carried out a debris avoidance maneuver when debris from that test showed a risk of passing near the station. As the risk diminished before the time of the closest approach, NASA and other ISS partners opted to continue the maneuver in place of a reboost maneuver originally scheduled for later this month. .