White House announces ASAT test ban

By Michael Marrow / April 19, 2022 at 3:46 PM

The Biden administration plans to prohibit direct-ascent antisatellite missile testing, Vice President Kamala Harris announced yesterday during a visit to Vandenberg Space Force Base, CA.

The announcement is the first initiative of the administration’s National Space Council and makes the United States the first country to adopt a unilateral ban, according to a White House fact sheet. The administration plans to work with the international community to make similar commitments, the fact sheet states.

As more countries broaden their space capabilities, including adversaries like Russia and China, intelligence officials have recently pointed to evolving antisatellite technologies like directed-energy weapons and cyber and electronic attacks that could disrupt or destroy satellites, with ASAT testing as a leading concern.

A successful ASAT test by Russia last November sparked international outcry for creating over 1,500 pieces of debris and renewed calls to ban the practice, which could threaten satellites in orbit as well as other orbital vehicles like the International Space Station.

News of the prohibition was lauded by experts who have been calling for an ASAT testing moratorium.

“By adopting this policy unilaterally, the United States is signaling that it sees this behavior as being so irresponsible that it is unwilling to engage in it,” the Secure World Foundation wrote in a statement. “As productive discussions in multilateral fora continue on norms and principles for responsible behavior in space, this new U.S. policy sends a clear message about U.S. commitment to ensuring the long-term sustainability of outer space.”

According to the foundation’s statement, ASAT tests have left 4,379 pieces of tracked debris still in orbit, most of which may take decades to decay.

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mike Rogers (R-AL) criticized the move.

“This unilateral decision mistakes activity for achievement. It does nothing to deter our adversaries in an escalating war fighting domain. In fact, I’m worried it will have the opposite effect,” he said in a statement.

“Both the Russians and the [Chinese Communist Party] have demonstrated their anti-satellite capabilities -- it would be naive to think they don’t intend to use them against our assets,” Rogers added. “I want answers from the administration on what exactly is being done to protect our national security. Simply declaring what they won’t do isn’t deterrence.”