Russian weapons test blamed for space waste threatening space station
A Russian weapons test created more than 1,500 space debris now threatening the seven astronauts aboard the International Space Station, according to US officials who called the strike reckless and irresponsible.
The State Department confirmed Monday that the debris came from an old Russian satellite destroyed by the missile.
“Needless to say, I am outraged. This is unacceptable, ”NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told The Associated Press. “It is incredible that the Russian government is doing this test and is threatening not only international astronauts, but their own cosmonauts who are on board the station” as well as the three people on board the Chinese space station.
Nelson said astronauts are now four times more risky than normal. And it’s based on debris big enough to be tracked, with hundreds of thousands of tiny bits undetected – “each of which can do huge damage if it hits in the right place.”
Condemning Russia, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said satellites are now also in danger.
The test clearly demonstrates that Russia “despite its claims to oppose the militarization of outer space, is prepared to (…) jeopardize the exploration and use of outer space. atmospheric by all nations by its reckless and irresponsible behavior, ”Blinken said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment Monday evening from Russia about the missile strike.
Once the threat became clear early Monday morning, the four Americans, a German and two Russians on board were ordered to immediately take cover in their moored capsules. They spent two hours in the two capsules, eventually emerging to only have to close and reopen the hatches of the station’s individual labs on each orbit, or an hour and a half, as they passed near or through them. debris.
At the end of the day, only the hatches in the station’s central core remained open, while the crew slept, according to Nelson.
Even a stain of paint can cause significant damage during an orbit at 17,500 mph (28,000 km / h). Something big, on impact, could be catastrophic.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States has repeatedly expressed concerns to Russia about a satellite test being carried out.
“We will continue to make it very clear that we will not tolerate this kind of activity,” he told reporters.
NASA Mission Control said the increased threat could continue to disrupt scientific research and other work by astronauts. Four of the seven crew members arrived at the orbiting outpost Thursday evening.
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who is halfway through a year-long mission, called it a “crazy but well-coordinated day” as he wished Mission Control good night.
“It was definitely a great way to bond as a crew, starting with our very first day working in space,” he said.
A similar weapons test by China in 2007 also resulted in countless debris. One of those pieces threatened to come dangerously close to the space station last week. Although this was later dismissed as a risk, NASA still had the station relocated.
Anti-satellite missile tests by the United States in 2008 and India in 2019 were conducted at much lower altitudes, well below the space station at about 260 miles (420 kilometers).
The late Russian satellite Cosmos 1408 was in orbit about 65 kilometers higher.
Until Monday, US Space Command was already tracking some 20,000 space debris, including old and broken satellites from around the world.
Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said it would take days, if not weeks and months to catalog the latest wrecks and confirm their orbits. The fragments will begin to spread out over time, due to atmospheric drag and other forces, he said in an email.
The space station is particularly at risk because the test took place near its orbit, McDowell said. But all objects in low Earth orbit – including the Chinese space station and even the Hubble Space Telescope – will be at “somewhat increased risk” over the next few years, he noted.
Earlier today, the Russian Space Agency said via Twitter that the astronauts had been ordered in their docked capsules, in case they had to get away quickly. The agency said the crew were back for routine operations, and the commander of the space station, Russian Anton Shkaplerov, tweeted: “Friends, all is well with us!”
But the debris cloud posed a threat in every passing orbit – or every hour and a half – and all robotic activity on the U.S. side was suspended. German astronaut Matthias Maurer also had to find a safer place to sleep than the European laboratory.
Nelson of NASA noted that the Russians and the Americans have had a space partnership for half a century – dating back to the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975.
“I don’t want it threatened,” he told the AP, noting that both countries are needed for the space station. “You have to make it work together. “