Russia conducts ASAT test, causes panic aboard ISS

On November 15th, Russia destroyed a old satellite, Kosmos 1408, as part of an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test. According to US Space Command, the resulting debris field consists of hundreds of thousands of objects hurtling around the earth and poses a “significant threat” to other orbital operations, particularly the International Space Station (ISS). On the 16th, astronauts aboard the ISS took shelter as the station’s orbit brought them into dangerous proximity of the debris field.

Russia’s ASAT test is only the most recent in a trend of destructive weapons tests on orbital vehicles. China conducted a similar test in 2007, with India following suit in 2019. Currently, there is no international consensus to limit these tests, despite them causing measurable harm to the growing number of national and commercial operations in space. US Space Command acknowledged the harm of ASAT tests in their press release on the 15th, highlighting the fact that all nations suffer as a consequence.

The ISS’s close encounter with the Kosmos 1408 is an indication for the types of issues space systems will face as we increase human habitation in space. A treaty prohibiting live tests of ASAT weapons is urgently needed–though extreme damage has already been done. Active debris remediation efforts will be required to reduce the frequency of close encounters and keep our planet’s orbit safe.