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Russia Confirms ASAT Test, Space Industry Condemns ‘Deliberate Action’

By Rachel Jewett | November 16, 2021

Photo: Shutterstock

Russian officials on Tuesday confirmed that the Russian Defense Ministry destroyed a defunct satellite with a weapons system, but rejected the U.S. government’s assertion that debris from the test poses a risk. 

According to Russian state news service TASS, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has said that Russia successfully tested a “cutting-edge system of the future,” that “hit an old satellite with precision worthy of a goldsmith.” 

Shoigu said the debris poses “no threat” to space activity, which goes against the assessment from U.S. government and military officials. 

U.S. Space Command said Monday that Russia’s test of a Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite (DA-ASAT) missile created 1,500 pieces of trackable debris, and will likely create hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris that will remain in orbit for years, posing a “significant risk” to the crew on the International Space Station (ISS) and multiple countries’ satellites. 

The Russian defense agency pointed out that the United States, China, and India have all conducted such tests, and the U.S. stated space strategy to develop “comprehensive military advantage” in space. According to TASS, the Defense Ministry said that it was “conducting routine activity to strengthen the nation’s defenses.”

The U.S. tested an ASAT weapon in 2008, and the national Defense Space Strategy released in 2020 identifies a “comprehensive military advantage” in space as a prioritized line of effort. 

After U.S. officials condemned the test as reckless, dangerous, and irresponsible on Monday, space companies and organizations followed suit. 

The Secure World Foundation called upon the United States, Russia, China, and India to declare unilateral moratoriums on ASAT weapon testing that could create additional orbital debris, and to work toward an international ban on ASAT testing.

“The continued testing or demonstration of anti-satellite capabilities, including the targeting of one own’s space objects, is an unsustainable, irresponsible, and destabilizing activity in space in which no responsible spacefaring state should engage,” Secure World Foundation said in a Tuesday statement.

SES CEO Steve Collar said in a statement to Via Satellite that: “The deliberate, intentional and uncontrolled creation of space debris threatens us all and makes space less accessible for everyone. SES is committed to working with governments and partners around the world to create a sustainable space environment for future generations.”

Astroscale, which offers commercial solutions for space debris and satellite servicing called for the international community to work together for a “safe and sustainable” space environment. 

“This ASAT test threatens the incredible progress we are making as a global community, endangering humans in orbit and the long-term stability of the space environment. Our orbital highways are already congested, and every further piece of debris created increases the risks and costs of operating in space,” Astroscale said in a statement. 

The Space Data Association, which facilitates space data sharing and includes major satellite operators Eutelsat, Inmarsat, Intelsat, and SES, also condemned Russia’s actions. 

“It is the responsibility of all countries, institutions and companies active in space to ensure that they always act in a safe manner and avoid any actions that risk that sustainability,” commented Chairman Pascal Wauthier. “This test risks everything that responsible space actors are working tirelessly to protect and represents a deliberate action that undermines the safe and sustainable use of space for all of humankind.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more industry response.