Criticism of Russia: After a satellite is destroyed, its debris appears to pose a threat to the International Space Station.
At first it was just an alarm on the International Space Station: The crew was instructed to get to safety in their space capsules, as space junk threatened the space station. Later it turned out that a Russian anti-satellite test (ASAT), in which a ground-based rocket had shot down a disused satellite, had caused several thousand pieces of debris, which now orbit the earth in a kind of “cloud”.
The US space organization Nasa is angry about it: “I am outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action,” explains Nasa boss Bill Nelson. Russia is not only endangering the astronauts on the ISS, but also its own cosmonauts and the Chinese space station. “These actions are inconsiderate and dangerous.” NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg also speaks of a “reckless act”. The test is also “worrying” because it shows that Russia is developing new weapon systems.
According to a spokesman for the US State Department, at least 1,500 fragments are said to have been created that can be traced. In addition, there would be “many thousands of smaller parts that cannot be tracked,” said the spokesman. Astronomer Jonathan McDowell believes that most of these fragments will remain in Earth orbit for five to ten years before falling to Earth and burning up in the atmosphere.
Comparable tests in the USA
For the first time, the ISS flew through the cloud of space debris on Monday morning, while the seven-person crew with the German astronaut Matthias Maurer stayed in the space capsules with which they had come to the space station. The capsules – a “Crew Dragon” from SpaceX and a Russian “Soyuz” – serve as a retreat for emergencies while the astronauts live on board the ISS. In the worst case, the space travelers could: return directly to earth with their capsules inside.
The ISS was apparently not hit by the space debris, but even the smallest debris can be dangerous in space. The space station moves – just like space junk – around the earth at a speed of around 28,100 kilometers per hour. At this speed, even the smallest scrap pieces turn into dangerous projectiles that can damage the thin shell of the space station. In order to rule out any future danger to the crew, NASA wants to continue to observe the fragments.
It is not the first time Russia has conducted an anti-satellite test. In 2020, the US Space Command reported two Russian ASAT tests. The US has also carried out such tests in the past, as has China and India. A Chinese test in 2007 produced thousands of shot particles, some of which are still orbiting the earth. It was only last week that the ISS had to change its orbit to avoid one of these dangerous projectiles.