In this image taken on Oct. 30, 2021, an aurora dimly intersected with Earth's airglow as the International Space Station flew into an orbital sunrise above the Pacific Ocean.

In this image taken on Oct. 30, 2021, an aurora dimly intersected with Earth's airglow as the International Space Station flew into an orbital sunrise above the Pacific Ocean. NASA

Russian Anti-Satellite Missile Launch Into Space ‘Dangerous And Irresponsible,’ State Says

Russia gave the U.S. no warning of launch, Pentagon says. Now ISS is at risk of getting riddled with debris.

Updated at 8:33 p.m. 

The U.S. government has condemned a Russian anti-satellite missile launch that blew up a Russian satellite on Monday, generating debris that now endangers the International Space Station.

“Today, miles above us, there are American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts on the International Space Station. What the Russians did today, with these 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris, poses a risk not only to those astronauts, not only to those cosmonauts but to satellites of all nations,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Price added that the impact also generated hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris too small to be tracked.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the United States was given no advance notice of the launch. 

“We watch closely the kinds of capabilities that Russia seems to want to develop which could pose a threat not just to our national security interest, but the security of other spacefaring nations,” Kirby said. 

Last December, Russia test-launched an anti-satellite missile that did not blow anything up. At the time, U.S. Space Command said Russia’s repeat tests of the direct-ascent missile and of a co-orbital anti-satellite weapon, showed it was intent on weaponizing space. If it ever used the direct ascent ASAT on a low-orbit satellite, it could “irrevocably pollute the space domain,” Space Command said at the time. 

Monday’s test that destroyed Russian satellite Cosmos 1408 did just that, and has created long-term risk to low Earth orbit, Space Command said in a statement late Monday. 

“Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations,” U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander, said in the statement. 

The ISS crew, including four astronauts who just arrived there last week, was awakened to the emergency at about 2 a.m. EST Monday and “directed to close the radial hatches on the ISS, including Columbus, Kibo, the Permanent Multipurpose Module, Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, and Quest Joint Airlock. Hatches between the U.S. and Russian segments remain open,”  NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement late Monday. 

The crew was then directed to take shelter in their spacecraft until about 4 a.m. as the station passed the debris cloud two more times. The station passes the debris field about every 90 minutes, Nelson said. 

The crew has not sheltered again since then based on a NASA assessment of the debris cloud, however the radial hatches remain closed and research that was scheduled Tuesday will be delayed until more is understood about the debris trajectories.

U.S. Space Command has previously warned that the number of objects and pieces of debris from past collisions of objects or old parts of aging or no-longer functioning systems now cluttering low Earth orbit has grown 22 percent in the last two years, to about 35,000 trackable items, not including the new debris generated from Monday’s ASAT test. 

Space Command tracks the trajectories of all of those objects and shares the information to help prevent collisions in space. 

“USSPACECOM continues to monitor the trajectory of the debris and will work to ensure all space-faring nations have the information necessary to safeguard their on-orbit activities if impacted by the debris cloud, a service the United States provides to the world, to include Russia and China,” Space Command said in the statement. 

“The debris resulting from this test will remain in orbit putting satellites and human spaceflight at risk for years to come,” U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement posted to Twitter. 

On Monday, the live feed from the International Space Station, which is live-streamed to the public by NASA, captured the astronauts and cosmonauts being directed to shelter as the orbiting debris field neared them, according to the space tracking website and the state-supported Russian news outlet RT.