Europe’s top space policy chief today joined the U.S. in strongly condemning the Russian anti-satellite test that produced a cloud of several thousand pieces of orbiting space junk.
European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton condemned Russia’s anti-satellite missile system test, which led to the destruction of a satellite in low orbit.
“As European Union (EU) 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 November 15, which led to the destruction of a satellite in low orbit (COSMOS 1408),” Breton wrote on Twitter late on Tuesday.
The Russians continue to insist the debris poses no threat to ISS, but their own state-run press proves them wrong. This TASS report claims the debris is no threat because it orbits 40 to 60 kilometers (25 to 35 miles) above the station.
That the debris is presently orbiting above the station is exactly why it poses a threat. While mission controllers will periodically raise ISS’s orbit to counteract the loss of altitude due to friction from the very thin atmosphere at that elevation, the various orbits of the satellite debris will continue to fall. Eventually that entire cloud will be drop into ISS’s orbit.
It is likely that the debris spread over time will make it easy for controllers to shift ISS to avoid individual pieces, but the need to dodge will certainly increase with time, raising the odds that something will hit the ISS.
The test seems almost so stupid an act by Russia that one wonders if its purpose was to create a long term threat to ISS itself. At least one private U.S. company, Axiom, plans to attach its own modules to ISS and use it as a base for the next few years for commercial operations. Others want to use ISS as a hotel for private tourists.
The Russians meanwhile are planning to launch their own new station. If the Russians put it in an orbit safe from this debris cloud, this test will have thus conveniently damaged their main competitor in commercial space operations.
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