Russia has put its own cosmonauts and NASA/ESA astronauts at risk after Anti-Satellite test [Updated: Statements by Nelson and Rogozin]

Monday morning, Russia conducted an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test against one of its satellites, Kosmos 1408. Now the International Space Station is going through multiple debris field passes.

Updated with statements from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Roscosmos Director Dmitry Rogozin, US Space Command, and the US Department of State.

What we know so far about Kosmos 1408

Launched in 1982, Kosmos 1408 was a spy satellite designed to gather electronic and signals intelligence for the USSR/Russia. It has since been removed from operation and landed itself on a hit list for Russia’s ASAT program.

Early Monday morning, Russia conducted the ASAT test on Kosmos 1408, which flies in a high inclination orbit over Russia. These tests, one of several over the recent years, show that Russia can destroy orbiting objects. For now, they have only destroyed their own, but the idea would be to destroy others if need be.

The risk ASAT tests put on other orbiting objects

Before knowing that any ASAT test took place, astronauts on the International Space Station were told to take shelter in their respective spacecraft. This alert was due to transit through a debris field that could cause damage to the station.

Since then, crew members have sealed several hatches on the ISS. Some hatches will remain closed until tomorrow. The ISS has also transited through a second debris field and is expected to transit through a third later Monday night.

ASAT tests like Kosmos 1408 produce thousands of new objects and create even larger fields of untrackable objects that could interact with other satellites. Russia, China, and even the United States have all conducted these tests, and each time, have put other satellites and orbiting space stations at risk of damage or destruction.

As of right now, no damage has been seen on the ISS or by other satellite providers. Stay tuned as we update this post with more info as it becomes available.

Full comment from US Department of State

Earlier today, the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct ascent and anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites. 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.

This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities. 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. The United States will work with our allies and partners to respond to Russia’s irresponsible act.

Full statement by US Space Command

Russia tested a direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile test on Nov. 15, 2021, Moscow Standard Time, that struck a Russian satellite [COSMOS 1408] and created a debris field in low-Earth orbit. The test so far has generated more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and will likely generate hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris.

“Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations,” said U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander. “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.”

USSPACECOM’s initial assessment is that the debris will remain in orbit for years and potentially for decades, posing a significant risk to the crew on the International Space Station and other human spaceflight activities, as well as multiple countries’ satellites. USSPACECOM continues to monitor the trajectory of the debris and will work to ensure all space-faring nations have the information necessary to safeguard their on-orbit activities if impacted by the debris cloud, a service the United States provides to the world, to include Russia and China.

“Russia is developing and deploying capabilities to actively deny access to and use of space by the United States and its allies and partners,” Dickinson added. “Russia’s tests of direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons clearly demonstrate that Russia continues to pursue counterspace weapon systems that undermine strategic stability and pose a threat to all nations.”

NASA Administrator Statement

The statement we’ve all been waiting on is one by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. While they could have given a public statement in their email chain with media they instead offered phone interviews with Nelson and written statements via email to select media outlets. We received our statement via Marcia Smith from Space Policy Online, since publishing the full statement has been made public. In the statement, Nelson confirmed the Kosmos 1408 debris field was the same field affecting the ISS.

On Monday, the International Space Station (ISS) Flight Control team was notified of indications of a satellite breakup that may create sufficient debris to pose a conjunction threat to the station. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson released the following statement about the incident:

“Earlier today, due to the debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety.

“Like Secretary Blinken, I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action. 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. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board.

“All nations have a responsibility to prevent the purposeful creation of space debris from ASATs and to foster a safe, sustainable space environment.

“NASA will continue monitoring the debris in the coming days and beyond to ensure the safety of our crew in orbit. The crew was awakened and directed to close the hatches to radial modules on the station, including Columbus, Kibo, the Permanent
Multipurpose Module, Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, and Quest Joint Airlock. Hatches between the U.S. and Russian segments remain open.

An additional precautionary measure of sheltering the crew was executed for two passes through or near the vicinity of the debris cloud. The crew members made their way into their spacecraft shortly before 2 a.m. EST and remained there until about 4 a.m. The space station is
passing through or near the cloud every 90 minutes, but the need to shelter for only the second and third passes of the event was based on a risk assessment made by the debris office and ballistics specialists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Statement by Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin

At 19.00. Moscow time, I had a detailed telephone conversation with the head of the NASA administration, Senator Nelson. The parties stated … Okay. In short, in Russian, we are moving on, ensuring the safety of our crews on the ISS, making joint plans.

Translated via Twitter

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