Russian Defense Ministry Boasts of ASAT Accuracy, Dismisses Orbital Debris Risk & Blames United States for Militarizing Space

Location of the 24,000 debris larger than 10 cm in low orbit in 2020. (Credits: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite condemnation from Western governments, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu seemed rather pleased with the results of an anti-missile test (ASAT) test that destroyed a defunct Soviet satellite, scattered more than 1,500 pieces of debris in Earth orbit, and endangered the seven-member crew of the International Space Station (ISS). TASS reports:

“It is true that we have successfully tested a cutting-edge system of the future. It hit an old satellite with precision worthy of a goldsmith. The remaining debris pose no threats to space activity,” Shoigu told the media during a working tour of military units in the Western Military Region near Voronezh.

The latter claim has been hotly disputed by the U.S. and British governments as well as foreign companies and organizations concerned about the proliferation of dangerous debris in Earth orbit that can damage or destroy satellites. The velocity of objects in low Earth orbit is around 17,500 mph (7,823 m/s), meaning that even small pieces of debris can cause significant damage.

The seven member crew of the ISS were ordered to take shelter in the their American Crew Dragon and Russian Soyuz transport ships as the space station flew near a cloud of debris generated by the destruction of the 39-year old Cosmos 1408 reconnaissance satellite.

In a statement, the Russian Defense Ministry accused the United States of militarizing space and failing to sign a treaty banning the deployment of weapons in orbit. The statement mentioned the creation of the U.S. Space Command and the adoption of a policy of military superiority in space.

The Russian Defense Ministry sees the statements by the Department of State and the Pentagon as hypocritical, which attempted to blame the Russian Federation for creating ‘risks’ for the cosmonauts of the International Space Station and urging to ‘develop universal norms that the global community will use in space exploration.

The draft of this treaty was submitted to the UN. However, the US and its allies are blocking its approval. Washington openly declares that it doesn’t want to be bound by any obligations in space…

Against this background, the Russian Defense Ministry implements planned activities on bolstering defensive capabilities that exclude the possibility of a sudden harm to the country’s security in the sphere of space and on Earth by existing and prospective foreign space means.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson spoke with his Russian counterpart, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin, on Tuesday. Nelson tweeted:

Spoke with Roscosmos DG @Rogozin expressing dismay over the danger our astronauts and cosmonauts continue to face on the International Space Station. It’s critical that we ensure the safety of our people and assets in space – now and into the future.

Rogozin tweeted about the phone call in Russian. The Google translation of the tweet is as follows:

At 19.00. Moscow time, I had a detailed telephone conversation with the head of the NASA administration, Senator Nelson. The parties stated … Okay. In short, in Russian, we are moving on, ensuring the safety of our crews on the ISS, making joint plans.

On Monday, Nelson strongly condemned the ASAT test and the dangers it posed to the space station and its crew. Roscosmos subsequently issued a statement reiterating its commitment to safety.