Russia had “recklessly conducted” an anti-satellite missile test against a Russian satellite, producing thousands of pieces of debris that could potentially damage the International Space Station (ISS) and other spacecrafts on low-Earth orbit, the U.S. Department of State said Monday.
During a press briefing, State Department spokesperson Ned Price stated that the Russian missile test produced over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris, as well as hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris that “now threaten the interests of all nations.”
“In addition, this test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station as well as to other human spaceflight activities,” said Price, noting that Washington had repeatedly warned Moscow about the dangers of testing anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.
“Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long term sustainability of our 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 said. He didn’t specify what action Washington or its partners have taken in response to this particular incident.
The announcement comes after the U.S. Space Command confirmed a “debris-generating event in outer space,” but didn’t say whether it was linked to a Russian ASAT test.
“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,” the defense agency said in a statement, adding that it will provide an update “in the near future.”
It appears that the Russian military has destroyed Cosmos 1408, a Soviet spy satellite that was launched in 1982 and had stopped functioning two years later, according to LeoLabs, a California-based company specialized in tracking space junk. The company said on Twitter that its radar has detected “multiple objects near expected location of Cosmos 1408.”
“Our initial data shows at least 30 unique objects detected near expected location of Cosmos 1408. The objects currently span a distance range of ~40km as viewed from our radar sites,” LeoLabs said.
Only four nations in the world, namely the United States, Russia, China, and India, currently possess ASAT devices. China demonstrated its ASAT ability by shooting down a retired weather satellite in 2007, followed by India in 2019. Both tests drew international criticism because of the large amount of debris they generated, with the Chinese test resulting in more than 3,000 pieces of debris and about 32,000 smaller pieces within the largest debris cloud ever created by a single event in orbit.