Pentagon calls for stop to anti-satellite weapons testing after Russian demo debris threatened ISS


A software rendering shows a recreation of Russia’s anti-satellite weapons test and the destruction of satellite Kosmos 1408, with the debris field in red.

The Pentagon called for a global halt to anti-satellite weapons testing on Wednesday, further decrying the practice after Russia’s destructive demonstration last month showered low Earth orbit with debris.

“We would like to see all nations agree to refrain from anti-satellite weapons testing that creates debris,” U.S. Department of Defense deputy secretary Kathleen Hicks said at a meeting of the National Space Council.

The Russian military destroyed a defunct satellite with an anti-satellite weapon (or ASAT) on Nov. 15, which U.S. Space Command said created more than 1,500 pieces of debris and sent astronauts on the International Space Station into shelter as it passed through and near the shrapnel field.

The view from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour of the International Space Station, as well as the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience, as the capsule approached to dock on April 24, 2021.

The test drew widespread condemnation from U.S. officials, which Russian officials responded by calling “hypocritical” given past American military tests in space. To date, four countries – the U.S., Russia, China, and India – have previously destroyed their own satellites in ASAT tests.

But Hicks’ comments mark the most direct call to action since the Russian demonstration.

“Such a display of deliberate disregard for safety, security and sustainability in space is one to be condemned and underscores the urgency of acting in defense of developing shared norms and having long-term sustainability of outer space,” Hicks said.

She spoke during a panel of the first National Space Council of President Joe Biden’s administration, which Vice President Kamala Harris is chairing. Like Hicks, Harris called out the ASAT test as “irresponsible.”

“By blasting debris … [Russia] endangered the satellites of other nations, as well as astronauts on the International Space Station,” Harris said, adding later that the test created “a moment for us to really see very clearly what can happen and what potentially can be avoided with norms and rules” in space.

State Department deputy secretary Wendy Sherman added during Wednesday’s council meeting that the United Nations is creating a process to establish “national security space norms of behavior.”

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