US says Russian anti-satellite missile test was 'dangerous and irresponsible'

State Department says test on Russian satellite might have forced ISS crew to take evasive action

The incident occurred amid unconfirmed reports that Russia had carried out an anti-satellite weapon test (ASAT). AFP
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The US State Department said on Monday that Russia had carried out a "dangerous and irresponsible" missile test against one of its own satellites, which may have been responsible for a debris cloud that forced the International Space Station Crew to take evasive action.

"We condemn Russia's reckless test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against its own satellite, creating debris that risks astronauts' lives, the integrity of the International Space Station, and the interests of all nations," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a tweet.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier: "Russia's dangerous and irresponsible behaviour jeopardises the long-term sustainability of ... outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia's [claims] to oppose the weaponisation of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.

"The test has so far generated over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris that now threaten the interests of all nations."

Mr Price said that the US was consulting with its partners to make it clear to Russia that this would not be tolerated.

Mr Blinken said: "The safety and security of all actors seeking to explore and use outer space for peaceful purposes has been carelessly endangered by this test.

"The United States will work with our allies and partners as we seek to respond to this irresponsible act."

The Pentagon did not receive advance warning of Russia's intention to destroy one of its own satellites, said the department's press secretary, John Kirby.

Earlier on Monday, the US said it was investigating a “debris-generating event in outer space” after astronauts on the International Space Station were forced to prepare for a possible evacuation.

It came amid unconfirmed reports that Russia had carried out an anti-satellite weapon test (Asat) – a rare show of force criticised by the space community because of the risk they create for crews in low-Earth orbit.

“US Space Command is aware of a debris-generating event in outer space," the agency said.

"We are actively working to characterise the debris field and will continue to ensure all space-faring nations have the information necessary to manoeuvre satellites if impacted.

“We are also in the process of working with … the State Department and Nasa concerning these reports and will provide an update in the near future.”

Nasa has not yet commented on the incident, but its Russia's Roscomos played down the incident.

“The orbit of the object, which forced the crew today to move into spacecraft according to standard procedures, has moved away from the ISS orbit. The station is in the green zone,” the agency tweeted.

“Friends, everything is regular with us. We continue to work according to the programme,” tweeted Anton Shkaplerov, the current commander of the ISS.

Earlier, Nasa astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, had floated into their SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for safety, a report from Spaceflight Now said.

At the same time, Russian cosmonauts Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov and Nasa astronaut Mark Vande Hei boarded a Soyuz spacecraft on the Russian segment, the outlet added.

Both spacecraft can be used as lifeboats to bring crew back to Earth in an emergency.

US space industry analyst Serata tweeted the debris might have been caused by a missile test.

“Asat missile strike now suspected. Seradata SpaceTrak database orbital data had Cosmos 1408 (an old Soviet satellite) in a 487 x 461km orbit – a bit higher than ISS but not much,” the company tweeted.

“The Asat strike on Cosmos 1408 would cause some debris to be fired below it … threatening ISS with a crossing debris cloud.”

Updated: November 16, 2021, 6:01 AM