Russia Conducts Antisatellite Test; Space Station Crew Takes Cover

The International Space Station in Earth orbit.

Notice first got here, like so many issues lately, as a rumor throughout Twitter.

Word unfold early Monday morning that Russia had carried out a direct ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile take a look at towards considered one of its personal getting older satellites, and that the ensuing particles had prompted the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to take protecting measures.

The U.S. State Department and U.S. Space Command confirmed the take a look at afterward Monday, and NASA additionally issued a statement condemning the take a look at. NASA continues to observe the evolving state of affairs.

“Earlier today, due to debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety,” stated Bill Nelson (NASA-Administrator) in a press release on Monday. “Like Secretary Blinken, I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action. All nations have a responsibility to prevent the purposeful creation of space debris from ASATs and to foster a safe, sustainable space environment.”

Russia confirmed the take a look at, and the Russian space agency Roscosmos issued a quick statement saying, “For us, the main priority has been and remains to ensure the unconditional safety of the crew.” The agency continues “to monitor the situation in order to prevent and counter all possible threats to the safety of the International Space Station and its crew.”

Satellite tracker Marco Langbroek notes that an earlier set of Navigational Warnings (notices despatched out through the Maritime Safety Office), together with the approximate place of Kosmos-1408 on the time, would counsel that the missile launch occurred out of the Plesetsk Cosmodrome round 2:52 UT early Monday.

ASAT test
An annotated map exhibits the current navigational warnings versus the ultimate orbit of Kosmos-1408.
Marco Langbroek

Threats to Space Stations

There are at the moment 10 people in space, all in low-Earth orbit: seven aboard the ISS (three from NASA, two from Russia, and one every from the European and Japanese space companies) and three aboard China’s Tiangong space station.

At 2:00 a.m. EST (7:00 UT) on Monday, NASA directed crew on the ISS to seal off the Columbus, Kibo, Joint Quest Airlock, Bigelow Expandable Activity, and the Permanent Multipurpose modules. The crew sat out shut particles passes within the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft and the newly arrived Crew Dragon 3 Endurance car, in case station departure grew to become vital.

The occasion will not be with out precedent, as ISS crew have ridden out shut particles passes of their Soyuz “lifeboats” earlier than.

A diagram of the ISS exhibits spacecraft at the moment docked to the station.

The station now approaches the particles area as soon as each 90 minutes. However, specialists at NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center Orbital Debris Program Office solely deemed it vital for the crew to shelter in place on the second and third passes.

There’s no phrase as of but if crew aboard Tiangong took comparable measures. It additionally stays unclear if there’s any rapid affect on different satellites, together with SpaceX’s hundreds of Starlink communication satellites.

The goal of the missile launch was Kosmos-1408 (COSPAR ID 1982-092A/13552) a defunct, Soviet-era Tselina-D SIGNIT (Electronic Signals Intelligence) satellite tv for pc in low-Earth orbit. The satellite tv for pc is in a 94-minute, 465-by-490 kilometer orbit, inclined 82.6 levels relative to the equator.

An announcement on the U.S. Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) Space-Track’s entrance web page reads:

“The 18th Space Control Squadron has confirmed the breakup of COSMOS-1408 (INTLDES 1982-092A, SCC 13552). Data indicates the breakup occurred on November 15, 2021. As of 1720 UT, November 15, 2021, 18 SPCS estimates that there are at least 1,500 associated pieces, all of which are being incorporated into routine conjunction assessment to support spaceflight safety. At this time, there is no additional data available on this event if you log into the website.”

This comes at a time not solely of heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine on Earth, however an rising burden of particles in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Multiple nations have carried out anti-satellite exams. China carried out a take a look at in 2007, including an estimated 2,000 items of particles bigger than a golf ball to LEO. The U.S. additionally undertook Operation Burnt Frost in 2008 to take out the failed spy satellite tv for pc USA-193 with a missile fired from the U.S.S. Lake Erie. (Back within the Eighties, the U.S. additionally carried out an air launch of antisatellite missile ASM-135, fired from an F-15C Eagle fighter jet.) And in 2019, India carried out an ASAT towards its MicroSat-R satellite tv for pc.

The collision between Kosmos-2251 and Iridium-33 in 2009 additionally added to the burden of space junk in LEO and highlighted the rising drawback of space particles. Many pundits concern that there may very well be a tipping level often known as the “Kessler Syndrome” or ablation cascade, through which one affect results in one other and one other.

One of a number of particles impacts seen on considered one of Hubble’s solar panel arrays, introduced again to Earth.

The present Outer Space Treaty bans using nuclear weapons in space however not standard ASATs. Many proponents have known as for a proper worldwide ban on anti-satellite missile exams all collectively. Certainly, this week’s take a look at by Russia has heated up the militarization of space and has exacerbated an already tense state of affairs.


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