Russia today confirmed that it had done the anti-satellite missile test earlier this week that destroyed one of its defunct satellites and produced a cloud of space junk.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence also issued a Russian-language statement defending the test. The minister-general of the army, Sergei Shoigu, said that the test was successful and that “the resulting fragments do not pose any threat to space activities,” according to a machine-generated translation to English.
The U.S. State Department said Monday that the test created a cloud of space debris made up of over 15,000 objects, calling it a threat to astronauts and cosmonauts, and space activities of all countries. The debris could pose a threat for years to come, experts have said. The space station’s crew had to shelter in their return ships on Monday when the debris cloud was first detected.
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos wrote on Twitter Monday that the space debris cloud “has moved away from the ISS orbit”, which is roughly 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. The space debris tracker LeoLabs estimates the debris cloud is at 273 to 323 miles (440 to 520 km) in altitude. However, “the station is in the green zone,” Roscosmos added.
The Russian claim that the debris at present poses no threat to ISS could very well be true. The trouble is that it appeared to have posed a threat initially, and will likely be a problem in the future. As a signatory of the Outer Space Treaty, Russia was required to avoid such a situation, and chose not to.
The article at the link notes similar tests by China (2007), the U.S. (2008), and India (2019). Of all these anti-satellite tests, only the U.S. targeted a satellite in an orbit so low that the debris posed no threat to operating satellites or manned spacecraft, and was also quickly pulled Earthward to burn up in the atmosphere. India chose a higher satellite whose debris posed less threat, but took longer to burn up and was initially of some concern.
China and Russia could have done the same thing. They did not, and their irresponsibility has badly worsened a problem that already was considered a serious concern.
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