Dangerous debris from Russian space kablooie


Russia destroyed one of its own satellites with a ground-based missile Nov. 15, in a test of its PL-19 Nudol DA-ASAT (direct-ascent anti-satellite) system. The blast created thousands of pieces of debris that quickly spread out into Earth orbit. The US says it has identified more than 1,500 trackable pieces of debris from the strike, and many thousands of smaller ones that cannot be traced. That same day, the Russian space agency, RosCosmos, reported that the astronauts on board the International Space Station had to shelter in place due to a cloud of debris passing by the station every 90 minutes, the time it takes for the ISS to orbit the Earth. It was unclear if the debris threatening the ISS came from Russia’s ASAT test.

But the US State Department charged that the new debris field does pose a danger to the space station. “This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities,” State Department representative Ned Price told reporters. “Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of our space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.”

US Space Command chief Gen. James Dickinson added: “The debris created by Russia’s DA-ASAT will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers. Space activities underpin our way of life and this kind of behavior is simply irresponsible.”

Russia carried out the ASAT test from Plesetsk Cosmodrome, about 800 kilometers north of Moscow. The missile destroyed an old Soviet spy satellite, called Kosmos 1408, that was once part of Russia’s Tselina radio signals surveillance program. Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Vladimir Dvorkin, former head of the 4th Central Research Institute (TsNII) of the Russian Defense Ministry, stated: “There is no direct violation of any international agreements. And we should not warn anyone when we test our systems—anti-missile or anti-satellite. We are not obliged to warn anyone about this, there is nothing like that.”

But Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation, a US-based group focused on space policy issues, commented on social media that Russia is bound by Article 9 of the Outer Space Treaty, which states that parties undertaking activities in space shall do so “with due regard” to the interests of other parties of the treaty, and take due measures to avoid “harmful contamination.” (The Verge, SpaceNews, The Diplomat, BBC News)

Hundreds of millions of pieces of “space junk” orbit the Earth daily, from chips of old rocket paint, to shards of solar panels, and entire dead satellites. This cloud of high-tech detritus spins around the planet at about 17,500 miles per hour. At these speeds, even pieces as small as a pebble can rip through a passing spacecraft. NASA and the US Defense Department are using ground-based telescopes and laser radars (ladars) to track more than 17,000 “orbital debris objects” to prevent collisions with operating missions. (MIT News)

Image: MIT News

  1. NASA plays asteroids billiards

    A US rocket has been launched on a mission to test technology that could one day tip a dangerous asteroid off course. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission wants to see how difficult it would be to stop a sizeable space rock from hitting Earth. The spacecraft will crash into an object called Dimorphos to see how much its speed and path can be altered. (BBC News)

    NASA has been hyping the supposed asteroid threat to the Earth for some time. We view this as a cover for yet more space militarization, and ultimately a threat to terrestrial survival. We say yet again: US imperialism hands off the asteroids!

  2. UN First Committee takes on space militarization

    The Russian ASAT test happened only two weeks after the United Nations General Assembly First Committee formally recognized the vital role that space and space assets play in international efforts to better the human experience—and the risks military activities in space pose to those goals. (PRI)

    We totally take issue with that “better the human experience” jive, but good to see the question getting some attention.

  3. Asteroid threat hype… yet again

    Here we go again. Note the chain of events…. Russia conducts an ASAT test, blowing up one of its own satellites. The US responds by launching an unprovoked attack on an asteroid under the guise protecting Earth from a potential rogue asteroid. And now the media are hyping yet another supposed asteroid threat to our planet… The New York Post reports that Asteroid 4660 Nereus, “bigger than the Eiffel Tower,” will “break into Earth’s orbit in just over a week.” But read past the lede, and it turns out: “NASA is expecting the space rock to stay 2.4 million miles away from us. That’s about 10 times the distance between Earth and the moon.”

    This despite the lurid headline “‘Concerning’ asteroid will break into Earth’s orbit in a week: NASA,” and the bogus illustrations of unnamed imaginary giant space rocks ominously hurtling toward Earth.

    This is propaganda. Please… don’t believe the hype.

  4. Astronomers stand up to satellite ‘mega-constellations’

    Astronomy is finally putting up a co-ordinated front to defend its interests as thousands of satellites are placed in the sky. Huge networks of spacecraft are being launched that are making it harder to get a clear view of the cosmos. These low-orbiting, fast-moving satellites leave bright streaks across telescope images.

    The International Astronomical Union is establishing a new coalition to focus the community’s response. Its work will be led by the US National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab) in Tucson, Arizona; and by the Square Kilometre Array Organisation (SKAO) in Manchester, UK. The latter is most concerned with the satellites’ effects on radio astronomy.

    The new Centre for the Protection of the Dark & Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference will try to act as a single voice for astronomy. (BBC News)