Russia shot down one of its own satellites, creating a debris field that could have been a threat to astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The question is, why did they do it?
The U.S. Space Command confirms that Russia shot down the satellite, which the agency said resulted in “a debris-generating event in outer space.”
“We are actively working to characterize the debris field and will continue to ensure all space-faring nations have the information necessary to maneuver satellites if impacted,” the statement continued. “We are also in the process of working with the interagency, including the State Department and NASA, concerning these reports and will provide an update in the near future.”
Seradata, which operates a launch and satellite database, reported that the downed satellite belonged to Russia and was targeted in an anti-satellite test.
“The Cosmos 1408 satellite is a retired Tselina-D class electronic intelligence/signals intelligence satellite launched in September 1982 and which has been dead for decades,” it mentioned in a tweet.
Following the test, the Russian Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities said the “orbit of the object, which forced the [International Space Station] crew today to move into spacecraft according to standard procedures, has moved away from the ISS orbit.”
Since the initial reports of the event, Russia confirmed that it conducted a missile test targeting an old space satellite but rejected accusations from the United States and allies that it risked endangering astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
The United States branded the test “dangerous and irresponsible,” but Russia dismissed the suggestion.
On Monday, astronauts aboard the ISS were forced to take shelter in a pair of space capsules after a cloud of space debris threatened to pass near the orbiting outpost.
“The U.S. knows for certain that the resulting fragments, in terms of test time and orbital parameters, did not and will not pose a threat to orbital stations, spacecraft and space activities,” Russia’s defense ministry said.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said that Washington was guilty of “hypocrisy” with its claim Russia had posed a risk to peaceful activities in outer space.
Russia’s Actions Were Reckless and Dangerous
At a briefing, Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that “the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test” he said had generated more than 1,500 pieces of “trackable orbital debris.”
“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,” he added.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson called the incident “unconscionable,” adding that the satellite fragments threaten the lives of all astronauts living and working in space, including the seven individuals at the International Space Station and three crew members aboard China’s Tiangong space station.
In a statement late Monday, Nelson said he was outraged by Russia’s actions.
“With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS but also their own cosmonauts,” he said.
Criticism did not only come from the U.S., however.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the test was a “reckless act” that posed a threat to both the ISS and to an orbiting Chinese spacecraft.
Stoltenberg added that the missile test demonstrated Russia was developing new weapons systems.
A British government spokesperson also condemned the test and urged Moscow to join United Nations discussions on “responsible behavior when it comes to space,” according to Reuters.
Russia’s defense ministry said in its statement Tuesday that it had been forced to boost its defense capabilities in response to weapons tests by the U.S. and then President Trump’s decision to establish a Space Force.