The Impact of the Russian ASAT Tests
The November 2021 Russian ASAT (Anti-Satellite) test shed unprecedented light onto the space community and is estimated to have produced almost 1700 pieces of debris in the 600km range, close to Earth, which was spread throughout other orbital regimes.
Not only did this test launch international attention on debris in space, but it reaffirmed uncertainty in operating in space for many private and public space entities. Space debris, or space “junk” as it is commonly referred to, can range from outdated satellites, to tiny fragments of broken up objects, similar to what the Russian ASAT test created.
The junk clogs up orbital pathways and can cause unforeseen structural damage to orbiting or launching objects. As such, many companies, including Astroscale have condemned ASAT tests in the industry as irresponsible behavior.
While space debris continues to orbit, Blackerby highlighted some silver-linings on the situation, “It’s awareness…when do we see the non-space media and community get in…We had recognition by politicians around the world that this was bad.”
Though not catastrophic in the near-term, the test created so much debris that the resulting awareness in the international community can be viewed as a positive aspect, but not one that the space industry wants to repeat as a normative action.
On ASAT tests, Weeden was firm that we can not allow this activity to, “live in the space environment.” Space actors can not continue doing these tests and apologizing as if they do not have any future, long-term consequences.
“I’m hopeful this will galvanize some sort of ASAT ban,” said Weeden. Given the international attention, the need to get rid of space trash is front and center and a ban on ASAT tests will help keep space accessible to all.
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