- BBC News World
The United States condemned Russia for conducting a “dangerous and irresponsible” missile test that the State Department said endangered the crew of the International Space Station (ISS).
The test blew up one of the Russian satellites, generating debris that forced the ISS crew to take refuge in capsules.
The station, which orbits at an altitude of about 420 km, currently has seven crew on board: four Americans, one German and two Russians.
“Just today, the Russian Federation has carried out, recklessly, a destructive test of a direct climb anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites, “said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
According to Price, the action has generated “so far more than 1,500 pieces of orbital debris traceable and hundreds of thousands of smaller pieces of orbital debris that now threaten the interests of all nations. “
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, downplayed to the incident.
“The orbit of the object, which today forced the crew to move to the spacecraft according to standard procedures, has moved away from the orbit of the ISS. The station is in the green zone, “they tweeted.
The difficult-to-control material passed by without incident, but its origin is now the focus of attention.
Apparently it comes from a broken Russian satellite, the Kosmos-1408, which was launched in 1982, weighed over a ton and had stopped working years ago.
LeoLabs, a space debris tracking company, said its radar facility in New Zealand detected multiple objects at the location where the long-missing satellite should have been.
However, Price insisted in a press conference that the danger was far from disappearing.
“This test will significantly increase the risk for astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as other human spaceflight activities,” he said.
“The dangerous and irresponsible behavior of Russia endangers the long-term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that that country’s claims to oppose space weaponry are insincere and hypocritical“he added.
“The United States will work with its partners and allies to respond to this irresponsible act.”
Analysis by Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos
It’s hard not to see anti-satellite missile tests (so-called ASATs) as a form of insanity, considering that it is impossible to control the debris field that results from a high-speed impact.
With this, thousands of fragments are produced. Some will be propelled downward toward Earth and out of harm’s way, but many will also head for higher altitudes, where will haunt operational missions for years to come, including Russian ones.
What would the Russian cosmonauts of the Space Station have thought when they took refuge in their Soyuz capsule early Monday because of the risk that the debris from this test would cross their orbital home?
Space junk is getting worse fast. Sixty-four years of activity above our heads means that there are now roughly a million objects running around up there uncontrollably with a size range of 1 to 10 cm.
An impact from any of these could end the mission of a vital meteorological or telecommunications satellite. Nations must clean up the space environment, not contaminate it further.
Several countries have the ability to shoot down satellites from the ground, including the United States, Russia, China and India.
Tests of these types of missiles are rare, but always draw widespread condemnation when they occur because they pollute the space environment for everyone.
When China destroyed one of its retired weather satellites in 2007, it created more than 2,000 pieces of traceable debris that were a constant danger to operational space missions, including the Chinese themselves.
Brian Weeden, an expert in knowledge of the space situation, considered that if it was confirmed that Russia had carried out a test that endangered the ISS, it was inevitable to classify that conduct as “more than irresponsible”.
The space station occupies an orbital layer that other operators try to keep clean of hardware, either in operation or retired.
However, astronauts increasingly have to take precautionary measures when fragments of ancient satellites and rockets are coming uncomfortably and dangerously close.
The speed at which this material moves means that it can easily pierce the walls of the ISS modules.
Precautionary measures usually consist of closing the hatches between the modules and, as happened on Monday, climbing into the capsules that carried the astronauts to the station. These vehicles remain attached to the ISS throughout the crews’ service life in case a quick escape in the form of a “lifeboat” is necessary.
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