UK and South Korea join US-led efforts to ban anti-satellite testing

Seven countries have so far agreed to stop practice that uses military technology to destroy spacecraft

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The UK and South Korea have joined efforts spearheaded by the US to ban anti-satellite testing, an exercise in which military technology is used to destroy spacecraft.

On October 3, the UK government announced it was committing “not to destructively test” direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missiles in efforts to promote responsible space behaviour.

South Korea also pledged on Tuesday at a United Nations meeting not to carry out the tests.

The US was the first to ban the tests earlier this year and is encouraging other nations to join.

This brings the total number of countries against anti-satellite testing to seven, also including New Zealand, Japan, Germany and Canada.

“The destructive testing of DA-ASAT missiles can create dangerous space debris, which threatens the functioning of these systems and can put at risk those who explore space, as well as being potentially destabilising,” the UK government said in a joint statement with the UK space agency.

“DA-ASAT missile testing is one of a number of threats to space systems. Several countries already possess a broad range of counter-space capabilities that can threaten all segments of space systems — on the ground, in space and the signals between them.”

Hwan Joon-kook, South Korea’s permanent representative to the UN, pledged against using the tests at the UN First Committee’s third plenary meeting.

He also called on other countries to join the ban.

“The Republic of Korea commits not to conduct destructive direct ascent anti-satellite missile testing, following the US announcement in April,” he said.

ASAT tests have caused concern over the years as they can create a dangerous amount of space debris that can endanger astronauts and other spacecraft.

But experts fear that military technology can also be used during conflicts and wars.

In November, Russia carried out an ASAT test in which it destroyed one of its satellites, creating thousands of pieces of space debris.

India ordered an ASAT test in 2019 in an operation called the Mission Shakti, resulting in a dangerous level of space debris.

China destroyed one of its satellites in 2007 and the US followed a year later with a similar operation.

Maj Gen Michel Friedling, head of the French Space Command, told an Abu Dhabi conference in May that space was “no longer safe”, as countries increasingly look to use it for military advantage.

“The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 [introduced by the UN] has allowed for the case of peaceful coexistence and bridges were made between East and West during these decades,” he said.

“But space is and will remain a key factor of economic strategy and military advantage for those who master space and those who know how to use space services.

“So, tensions on Earth will reflect in space and it's already the case.”

Russia militarised space for its war in Ukraine by using technology that jams communications. It carried out cyber attacks on satellites and surveillance using satellites.

Since its invasion of Ukraine, a number of cyber attacks have been launched over the besieged country, causing internet and communication lines to be cut.

Billionaire Elon Musk said this week that his company SpaceX spent $80 million “out of pocket” to make internet through their Starlink satellites available in Ukraine.

Updated: October 06, 2022, 11:43 AM