European Union Commissioner, Secure World Foundation Condemn Russian ASAT Test

Thierry Breton
European Union Commissioner for Internal Market

As the European Union Commissioner in charge of EU Space policy and in particular of Galileo & Copernicus, I join the strongest condemnations expressed against the test conducted by Russia on Monday 15 Nov., which led to the destruction of a satellite in low orbit (COSMOS 1408).

This anti-satellite weapon test has caused the generation of a significant amount of debris of a size that could endanger the European Union’s space activities as well as those of our Member States.

The launch poses a major risk to our astronauts currently on the International Space Station and has triggered emergency procedures to protect them.

The European Space Surveillance and Tracking System (EUSST) was immediately activated and has been monitoring the situation on a permanent basis to protect European satellites (Galileo and Copernicus) and those of the Member States from any danger of debris collision.

At this time, none of the Galileo or Copernicus satellites have been impacted. However, close monitoring of the situation is necessary to track the potential impact on the 240 European satellites covered by EU SST.

Such an event is a reminder that space is increasingly contested and must become a fully-fledged dimension of European Union defence strategy.

It is one of the pillars of the Strategic Compass on the future of European Union defence presented yesterday to the EU Defence Council, by High Representative Josep Borrell Fontelles. In this respect, we will work together on a new space & defence strategy.

We will also present a strategy for the evolution of existing SST programme towards a genuine Space Traffic Management system, to monitor debris but also strengthen our space defence capacities.

Secure World Foundation

On Nov. 15, 2021, Russia conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) test in low Earth orbit, where an interceptor of the Nudol ground-based ASAT system was used to destroy one of Russia’s own derelict satellites, Cosmos-1408. The satellite was at an orbit of about 480 kilometers in altitude; the interception created at least 1500 pieces of trackable debris. This debris field will expand in size and spread in a ring around the Earth that will likely remain on orbit to threaten other space objects for years to come. Regardless of rationale, to deliberately create orbital debris of this magnitude is extremely irresponsible. Orbital debris poses an indiscriminate risk to everyone’s satellites in orbit, endangering critical space-based services we all rely on, as well as the human lives on the International Space Station and China’s Tiangong Space Station.

This is not the first time a country has tested an antisatellite weapon and created debris on orbit; we detail three previous cases by the United States, China, and India in our report, Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment.  We call upon the United States, Russia, China, and India to declare unilateral moratoriums on further testing of their antisatellite weapons that could create additional orbital debris and to work with other countries towards solidifying an international ban on destructive ASAT testing. The continued testing or demonstration of antisatellite capabilities, including the targeting of one own’s space objects, is an unsustainable, irresponsible, and destabilizing activity in space in which no responsible spacefaring state should engage. 

This event also shows that the United Nations’ planned Open-Ended Working Group on space threats and responsible behavior is more important than ever.  We hope that during its scheduled meetings in 2022 and 2023, the global community will reach agreement that debris-producing antisatellite testing is irresponsible behavior. It is in the interests of all to refrain from the deliberate creation of space debris that negates the collective efforts of many other space actors to reduce or avoid debris creation during their normal space operations.