SPACECOM confirms Russian ASAT test, warns of long-term implications of on-orbit debris

By Courtney Albon / November 15, 2021 at 5:15 PM

The Commander of U.S. Space Command has confirmed that Russia conducted an anti-satellite test earlier today, striking one of its own satellites and creating a debris field in low-Earth orbit that will “continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come.”

Gen. James Dickinson said in a press release the direct-ascent ASAT missile test demonstrates “a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations.”

The test, which struck Russia’s COSMOS 1408 satellite, has so far created 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris, and SPACECOM estimates it will generate “hundreds of thousands of pieces” of smaller debris.

The debris presents what will likely be a decades-long risk to human spaceflight operations as well as satellites operated by the U.S. and other countries. SPACECOM is working to track the trajectory of the debris and communicate information to other countries as they seek to protect their on-orbit space assets.

Dickinson said the capabilities Russia demonstrated today are an attempt to “actively deny access to and use of space” by the U.S. and its allies.

“Russia's tests of direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons clearly demonstrate that Russia continues to pursue counterspace weapon systems that undermine strategic stability and pose a threat to all nations,” he said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) called the test "reckless" and "deliberately provocative" in a statement today and encouraged the Biden administration to make it clear to the Russian government "in no uncertain terms, that this is unacceptable."

"This dangerous test has put at least 1,500 trackable objects in close proximity to countless commercial and government satellites that we rely on to keep our economy moving and our country safe -- not to mention the international space station, an enduring symbol of international cooperation," Inhofe said.