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Russia shot down satellite – US astronauts had to take cover from space debris

International Space Station (NASA/Crew of STS-132)
November 15, 2021

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) took shelter on Monday following a “debris-generating event.” The sheltering action came after reports that Russian shot down a satellite during an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test.

“U.S. Space Command is aware of 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 U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) said in a statement to American Military News.

“We are also in the process of working with… the State Department and NASA, concerning these reports and will provide an update in the near future,” SPACECOM added.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed the Russian ASAT test in during a Monday afternoon press briefing. Price said, “Earlier today, the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against on of its own satellites.

Price said the ASAT test had generated 15,000 trackable pieces of debris and hundreds of thousands of smaller debris pieces.

“This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human space flight activities,” Price added. “Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of our outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.”

On Monday, the Russian space agency Roscomos said that astronauts aboard the ISS moved into spacecraft, in accordance with the safety procedures.

“The @Space_Station crew is routinely performing operations according to the flight program,” Roscomos tweeted. “The orbit of the object, which forced the crew today to move into spacecraft according to standard procedures, has moved away from the ISS orbit. The station is in the green zone.”

The Houston Chronicle reported the ISS crew, including both U.S. astronauts and Russian cosmonauts sheltered in the Crew Dragon and Soyuz spacecraft respectively. AFP reported that both spacecraft can be used as lifeboats to bring the crew back to Earth in the event of an emergency.

“Friends, everything is regular with us!” Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov tweeted. “We continue to work according to the program.”

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-AL), Lead Republican of the House Armed Services Committee, released a statement saying, “The reports that Russia has tested an anti-satellite weapon are concerning and exactly why we stood up Space Command and created the Space Force. Space has already become a warfighting domain. The Biden administration must back rapid defense modernization with a focus on space. I am afraid that this test, like the 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test, will impact space for many years to come.”

On Monday, the private space database company Seradata tweeted about the reported Russian ASAT weapon test.

“Reports coming through of ASAT (Anti-satellite) test by Russia on one of its own satellites Cosmos 1408 (Kosmos-1408) (1982-092A/13552). Some debris caused. More soon,” Seradata tweeted. “14 pieces of debris tracked so far. According to the Seradata SpaceTrak launch and satellite database, 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.”

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics tweeted the reported orbit paths of ISS and Kosmos-1408.

“Here is the orbit of ISS (blue) compared to that of the Ikar No. 39L satellite (cover name Kosmos-1408) (magenta) and the part of the orbit where the crew have been warned of possible collisions with a debris field (red). This shows Kosmos-1408 is a plausible candidate.”

Past ASAT weapons tests have contributed to dangerous space debris fields. In 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test that destroyed one of its own satellites and spread debris throughout Earth’s orbit.

This article has been updated to include statements by the U.S. State Department.