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US Government Calls Russian Anti-Satellite Test ‘Reckless’

By Rachel Jewett | November 15, 2021

Photo: NASA

Russia conducted a Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite (DA-ASAT) test on Monday against one of its own satellites, generating hundreds of thousands of pieces of orbital debris, the U.S. State Department confirmed. 

Ned Price, press secretary for the State Department, strongly condemned the test in a Monday briefing, calling it “reckless.” He said the destructive satellite test generated more than 1,500 pieces of trackable debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of other orbital debris. 

“This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities,” Price said. “Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of 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.” 

U.S. Space Command reported that the satellite affected was COSMOS 1408 in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), a Soviet ELINT (Electronic and Signals Intelligence) satellite that was launched in 1982 and weighs 2,200 kg. 

USSPACECOM said in a Monday statement that the debris will remain in orbit for years and potentially for decades, posing a “significant risk” to the crew on the International Space Station (ISS) and multiple countries’ satellites. USSPACECOM is monitoring the trajectory of the debris. 

“Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations,” said U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander. “Russia’s tests of Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite weapons clearly demonstrate that Russia continues to pursue counterspace weapon systems that undermine strategic stability and pose a threat to all nations.”

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a Monday briefing that “the most immediate concern is the debris itself.”

“We watch closely the kinds of capabilities that Russia seems to want to develop, which could pose a threat not just to our national security interests, but the security of other spacefaring nations,” Kirby said. “We’ve been very clear we we would like to see norms for space so that it can be used responsibly by all spacefaring nations” 

LeoLabs, a commercial company that tracks space debris, said data from its Kiwi Space Radar confirms at least 30 unique objects detected near the expected location of Cosmos 1408. 

Anti-satellite weapons are a growing concern in space. In 2019, India conducted its first ASAT test. In April 2020, U.S. military officials said that Russia tested a DA-ASAT missile capable of destroying satellites in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), and called it an example that “threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious, and growing.”