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US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Russia had tested anti-satellite weapons, after which debris formed in the Earth’s orbit, posing a danger to the International Space Station. The Russian Ministry of Defense denies all threats.
Russia shot down one of its old satellites with an anti-satellite missile, Price said. As a result, according to him, 1.5 thousand fragments of space debris were formed, the movement of which can be traced, and hundreds of thousands of smaller fragments, “now pose a threat to the interests of all peoples.”
“Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior threatens the long – term stability of space and clearly shows that Russian statements against the militarization of space are sincere and hypocritical,” said a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.
On Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that a test had been carried out on November 15, which hit the inactive Russian spacecraft Tselina-D, which has been in orbit since the 1980s.
At the same time, the Russian department emphasized that the wreckage of the device did not pose a threat to orbital stations, and that China, India and the United States themselves had already carried out such tests.
“The United States is aware that the resulting fragments did not and will not pose a threat to orbital stations, spacecraft and space activities in terms of test time and orbital parameters,” the ministry said.
And its chief, Sergei Shoigu, said the anti-satellite system hit the Tselina-D “with jewelry”.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in turn, called the allegations of creating risks for space activities hypocrisy.
“Now I can only say one thing. To say that the Russian Federation creates risks for the peaceful use of outer space is at least hypocrisy. There are no facts,” said Lavrov (quoted by RIA Novosti).
That the launch resulted in the launch of the old Soviet satellite Kosmos-1408, a Tselina-class device designed for electronic intelligence, was previously reported by the US company Seradata, which tracks the movement of objects in space.
According to information from the American company, this satellite was launched in 1982 and has not worked for several decades. “After the collision, there was probably an explosion, which led to a ‘dust cloud’ appearing, which led to the activation of security protocols on the ISS,” says Seradata.
On Monday, the Russian state-owned company Roscosmos reported, citing data from the US Mission Control Center, that the ISS was threatened by a collision with space debris. Because of this, the station crew had to take refuge in Soyuz and Crew Dragon in case they needed to evacuate immediately.
Roskosmos later clarified that the threat of a collision had passed. “Currently, the crew of the International Space Station is routinely carrying out work under the flight program,” the report said. “The words for the object, due to which the crew was forced to transfer to spacecraft in accordance with normal procedures, have moved away from the ISS orbit, the station is in the green zone”.
The ISS is in orbit at an altitude of about 420 kilometers from Earth.
Analysis: “a kind of madness”
Jonathan Amos, BBC science writer
It’s hard not to call anti-satellite missile testing a kind of madness.
It is impossible to control the entire cloud of debris that arises from a high-speed impact.
There are thousands of these junk. Some of them rush to the ground and pose no danger, but many will go to higher orbits, where they will threaten orbits for many years, including those in the country that perform such tests.
What would the Russian cosmonauts on the ISS think when they took refuge in the Soyuz capsule early on Monday morning? The reason was the risk that the debris generated by these tests could fall into their own orbital home.
The situation with space debris is deteriorating rapidly. 64 years of space activity above our heads means that about one million objects in size from one to 10 centimeters now fly there uncontrolled.
The effect of any of these may be the end of a mission for an important meteorological satellite or telecommunications satellite.
Therefore, people must clean up outer space and not clog it further.
Not the first time
According to Price, the tests “significantly increased the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS, just like other human spaceflights.”
The news agency TASS reported, citing sources in the rocket and space industry, that the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, on Tuesday will hold talks with NASA representatives in Moscow, during which, among other things, “it is planned to discuss the meeting of space debris with ISS which occurred on Monday. “
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also told reporters about Russian anti-satellite tests, stressing that Moscow did not warn Washington in advance. “We are closely monitoring the means that Russia is probably trying to develop. They could pose a threat not only to our national security interests, but also to the security of other space powers,” he said.
In this regard, Kirby said that the United States has long proposed the development of international standards for the safe use of space.
As early as the summer of 2020, the United States and the United Kingdom announced that Russia had tested anti-satellite weapons. In July 2020, after the Russian inspector satellite Kosmos-2543 entered orbit, a small object separated from it in the direction of another Russian satellite. The US Space Command calls it a “projectile”, but Russia claims that it was some kind of “small spacecraft” that tested another satellite in orbit.
This case in the US is linked to another that occurred in 2017. Then the Russian device, according to the Pentagon, performed maneuvers near the US satellite. The United States believes that in both cases Russia tested anti-satellite weapons and that this shows Russia’s true intentions regarding not deploying weapons in space.
Not just Russia
Not only Moscow has such technology. The United States first tested a weapon against satellites in 1959. In 2019, India launched its own satellite into low orbit around the earth and declared itself a space power. China also has similar capabilities: in 2007, the country destroyed its own meteorological satellite, resulting in more than 2,000 traceable debris; this debris disturbed not only Chinese but also other space projects.
At the same time, Russia has for several years signed joint declarations not to be the first to place weapons in space with countries that have no major space programs – neither civilian nor military. In addition to African, Latin American and Asian countries, such statements have been signed with, for example, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and others. These statements are made for a reason, but as part of Russia’s No First Deployment of Weapons in Space (NPOF) initiative, which has been in place since 2004.
In March this year, such an agreement was signed with Sierra Leone.