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US says it ‘won’t tolerate’ Russia recklessly shooting down satellites in space

Satellites (Thegreenj/WikiCommons)
November 17, 2021

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. won’t tolerate Russia’s Monday test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile in which it used the weapon to shoot down its own satellite.

The ASAT missile destroyed the satellite, creating 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and likely hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris that will remain in space forever.

“What we are very clearly conveying is that the decision to proceed with this anti-satellite test today – it was dangerous, it was reckless, it was irresponsible,” Price said during a Monday press briefing. “And we will and have been consulting with our allies and partners around the world to make clear to the Russian Federation and anyone else who would consider such a dangerous operation that this won’t be tolerated.”

Price added, “I don’t want to get ahead of specific measures that we may pursue, that our partners and allies may pursue but we are going to continue to make very clear that we won’t tolerate this kind of activity.”

The debris field created by the test forced both U.S. astronauts and Russia’s own cosmonauts on the International Space Station (ISS) to take shelter in the Crew Dragon and Soyuz spacecraft respectively, which can be used as lifeboats to bring the crew back to Earth in the event of an emergency.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned that the Russian missile test also raises concern about the weaponization of space.

During a Pentagon press briefing on Wednesday, Austin said the “most troubling” aspect of the ASAT test “is the danger that it creates for the international community. It undermines strategic stability.”

“We are concerned about the weaponization of space,” he said.

“As you know, there’s a debris field that will now be there forever and it’s a safety concern,” Austin added. “We would call upon Russia to act more responsibly going forward. They know exactly what kind of debris field they’re going to create and so we wonder why they would do such a thing.”

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 also spread debris throughout Earth’s orbit.

Austin said the U.S. calls upon Russia “and all countries” to avoid weaponizing space.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also raised concerns about space being weaponized on Monday.

“The events of November 15, 2021, clearly demonstrate that Russia, despite its claims of opposing the weaponization of outer space, is willing to jeopardize the long-term sustainability of outer space and imperil the exploration and use of outer space by all nations through its reckless and irresponsible behavior,” Blinken said.