Facepalm: Over the weekend, Russia disabled one of its satellites by hitting it with a surface-to-space missile. The United States Space Command (USSC) said the anti-satellite system test (ASAT) generated a large cloud of debris that spread through low Earth orbit. It says it tracks over 1,500 units, but thousands more are too small to track.
On Monday, the Russian space agency Roskosmos (Roscosmos) tweeted a message that astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) moved into their spacecraft as it flew past the “object.” According to Roscosmos, the ISS is in the green zone as of 9:39 am ET.
V @Space station The crew normally performs operations according to the flight program.
The orbit of the object, which today forced the crew to transfer to the spacecraft according to standard procedures, has been displaced from the ISS orbit.
The station is in the green zone. pic.twitter.com/MVHVACSpmT
– ROSCOSMOS (@roscosmos) November 15, 2021
Later NASA confirmed that US ISS personnel took action in an emergency. Ballistics specialists at NASA assessed the situation and ordered the crew to close the radial modules at the station and take cover in their spaceships from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. ET Monday. During this time, the ISS passed the wreckage twice. The space station orbits the Earth once approximately every 90 minutes.
Indeed, Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell orbited the debris field and superimposed it on the trajectory of the ISS and found that it crossed or near space debris every 93 minutes. He correctly guessed that the Russian satellite Kosmos-1408 was the source of the debris.
Here is the orbit of the ISS (blue) compared to the orbit of the satellite Ikar No. 39L (name Kosmos-1408) (purple) and the part of the orbit where the crew is warned of possible collisions with the debris field (red). This shows that Kosmos-1408 is a likely candidate. pic.twitter.com/oGJtQxWxkV
– Jonathan McDowell (@ planet4589) November 15, 2021
NASA officials are unhappy.
“I am outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “With its long and legendary history of manned space travel, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts.”
Likewise, the U.S. Department of Defense punished Russia, calling the test “irresponsible.” and said it would have a long-term impact on space exploration.
“Russia has demonstrated a conscious disregard for the security, security, stability and long-term sustainability of outer space for all countries,” said USSC Commander General James Dickinson. “The debris created by the Russian DA-ASAT will continue to pose a threat to space activities in the coming years, endangering satellites and space missions, and forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers. Space activities are at the core of our way of life, and so on. the behavior is simply irresponsible. “
The United Kingdom Space Command has also condemned Russia’s actions.
Last weekend, Russia tested an anti-satellite missile.
This led to the formation of debris that will remain in orbit for many years, posing a risk to manned space missions and low-Earth orbit assets.
The British Space Command Commander made the following statement. pic.twitter.com/iisa0Nxp0G
– UK Space Command (@UKSpaceCmd) November 16, 2021
Yesterday’s event was not the first time that the ISS was threatened by a collision with space debris. Just a few days ago, on November 11, a docked Russian supply ship was forced to push the ISS out of the way of part of the destroyed satellite during Chinese tests of the anti-satellite system. NASA has been tracking this debris since 2007.
NASA will continue to closely monitor the Russian-created debris cloud to ensure the safety of the ISS crew and future missions. Knowing the proximity of space debris to manned spacecraft is vital to the safety of astronauts. Depending on the trajectory of the debris, collisions can occur at speeds in excess of 17,000 miles per hour (the speed of the ISS orbit), resulting in catastrophic damage to the spacecraft.
The private firm LeoLabs also tracking rubbish. He tweeted that he had found “several objects” near the Cosmos 1408 location, confirming McDowell’s suggestion that a Russian-owned satellite had been destroyed.
The USSC says it has followed Russian tests of the DA-ASAT (Right Ascension Anti-Satellite System) for years, but they never hit the object. The last one was in December 2020. At the time the USSC said that worried that the Russian DA-ASAT could eventually hit the satellite and create a dangerous debris field. Such damage is irreversible because it is impossible to clean up space pollution.