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Russia ASAT Test Destroys Old Satellite; ISS Crew Shelter in Return Capsules as Station Flies Near Orbital Debris

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 15, 2021
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The scales of the space debris problem (Credit: ESA)

Updated on Nov. 15 at 4:35 PST with comments by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States has condemned a Russian anti-satellite test that destroyed a non-functioning 39-Soviet-era satellite that added more dangerous debris to Earth orbit.

“Earlier today, the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “The test has so far generated over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris that now threaten the interests of all nations.

“This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities. Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long term sustainability of outer space, and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical. The United States will work with our allies and partners to respond to Russia’s irresponsible act,” Price added.

The seven-member international crew on the International Space Station was forced to take temporary refuge in their Russian Soyuz and American Crew Dragon transports on Monday while the station passed near a cloud of debris.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson released the following statement about the incident:

“Earlier today, due to the debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety.

“Like Secretary Blinken, I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action. With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board.

“All nations have a responsibility to prevent the purposeful creation of space debris from ASATs and to foster a safe, sustainable space environment.

“NASA will continue monitoring the debris in the coming days and beyond to ensure the safety of our crew in orbit.”

LeoLabs, which tracks space traffic, said it has detected “multiple objects near expected location of Cosmos 1408. We will share supporting data as we gather it today.” Cosmos 1408 was a Soviet military surveillance satellite launched in 1982.

The growing amount of debris in Earth orbit is causing increasing concern as satellite operators plan to launch tens of thousands of more satellites into orbit.

The Pentagon issued a statement about the ASAT test.

“U.S. Space Command is aware of a debris-generating event in outer space. We are 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. We are also in the process of working with the interagency, including the State Department and NASA, concerning these reports and will provide an update in the near future,” the statement said.

Nujoud Fahoum Merancy, Chief of Exploration Mission Planning, tweeted a video of test of hypervelocity impacts on ISS laboratory module shielding.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also condemned the Russian test.

“This destructive anti-satellite missile test by Russia shows a complete disregard for the security, safety and sustainability of space,” Wallace said. “The debris resulting from this test will remain in orbit putting satellites and human spaceflight at risk for years to come.”

9 responses to “Russia ASAT Test Destroys Old Satellite; ISS Crew Shelter in Return Capsules as Station Flies Near Orbital Debris”

  1. ThomasLMatula says:

    And so the Russians just made another attempt to destroy the ISS… Accidents, stupidity or a very secret plan to get rid of the albatross of the ISS??

    • delphinus100 says:

      I doubt the Chinese are particularly pleased, either…

    • Oldfussnfeathers says:

      They want ISS gone but don’t want to get any blame. So right now they’re giving little nudges that they’re tired of our money and support. By 2040 they’ll be committed to some Chinese space program and they are probably in talks for that right now.

    • schmoe says:

      The hell of it is, selling Soyuz tourist tickets to the ISS is one of the few remaining source of foreign hard cash the Russians still have, now that we stopped buying RD-180 engines and Soyuz seats for NASA astronauts, and the Europeans stopped buying Eurokots and soon Soyuz ST’s when Ariane 6 goes operational.

      Yusaku Maezawa paid Roscosmos almost $80 million to fly himself and his assistant to the ISS just a few weeks from now.

      One would think the Russians wouldn’t kill the goose that is still laying some golden eggs for them, and they go and pull this ASAT bullsh*t. It’s like scoring an own-goal. 😛

    • publiusr says:

      The latter. Putin hates space. When poor Rogozin chafed at the cuts, Putin pulls this stunt. Rogozin was the target here.

  2. Andrew Tubbiolo says:

    Probably part of this series of strange series of military buildups on the novo-Russia perimeter combined with the new scheme of injecting migrants into NATO countries. Nobody’s ID’d what’s really behind the posturing. I can see a few revenue streams for Russian and Belarus oligarchs, but there can’t be enough money to justify the expense of moving troops or conducting an ASAT test.

  3. Pete Zaitcev says:

    Every time we starting thinking that Russians are more reasonable than Chinese, they set out to prove it wrong.

  4. therealdmt says:

    Russians sure are ornery

  5. duheagle says:

    I doubt the ISS was much, if any, consideration. Nor was potential revenue loss from future notional space tourists. Putin has a “nature” – like the scorpion in the old fable about the frog – and he simply can’t seem to resist doing something simple, brutal, demonstrative and self-injuring every so often. Georgia in 2007, Crimea in 2014 and now this bit of orbital vandalism in 2021. Given this apparent seven-year pattern, with a little luck, we maybe won’t see any additional irrational outbursts until 2028 – assuming Putin is still alive/in charge by then.

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