On November 16, 2021, Russia conducted an anti-satellite missile test that destroyed Kosmos-1408, an old and non-functional Soviet spy satellite launched in 1982. According to Ned Price, the U.S Department of State spokesperson, the test “has so far generated over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris.”
When the International Space Station passed close to the debris cloud, the astronauts were forced to take shelter in the Soyuz and Crew Dragon capsules, which can detach from the ISS and transport the astronauts back to Earth. If the ISS or any other spacecraft were to be hit with any large debris at orbital speeds, then the damage could be catastrophic. Imagine the fallout if a billion-dollar, vital project that was years in the making (such as the James Webb Space Telescope) was destroyed by a 10cm piece of metal. Moreover, since it’s nigh impossible to control space debris, it’s extremely important not to pollute it any further.
In our modern world, society relies heavily on various space technologies: weather, telecommunications, environmental analyses, and national security. As such, it is extremely worrying that nations have the weaponry necessary to bring all of those to the ground.
The International Response:
Many countries and organizations condemned the Russian anti-satellite tests. Japan’s foreign ministry deemed the test “an irresponsible behavior that undermines sustainable and stable use of space.” Australia’s defense minister stated that the test “was a provocative and dangerous act that demonstrated the threats to space systems are real, serious, and growing.” South Korea’s foreign ministry manifested that there is a need for “all nations to act responsibly in space to ensure peaceful and sustainable use of space…” The NATO Secretary-General called the test “reckless.”
At the same time, however, Russia’s Defence Ministry stated that the debris from the test “pose no threat to space activity.” However, we all know this isn’t true, as it will disrupt it in the future.
Not The First of Its Kind:
Although this test may be surprising to many of us, it is not the first time it has happened. According to the BBC, back in 2007, China launched a similar test and destroyed one of its weather satellites, resulting in “more than 3,000 pieces of debris the size of a golf ball or larger.” Following this test, the US launched its own, but on a satellite that was at a much lower altitude than the Russian and Chinese ones so that any debris would burn up quickly in the atmosphere. In addition, in 2019, India did the same, causing over 200 pieces of trackable debris to appear in space.