International Space Station escapes collision with space debris after a Russian weapons test destroyed a satellite

Russia shot down one of its Soviet-era satellites for a weapons test on Monday and sent… More than 1500 pieces of trackable debris in the space. This forced the astronauts to International Space Station Shelter for about two hours in Two spacecraft It can bring them back to Earth in the event of an imminent collision. While the International Space Station looks clear at the moment, experts say the situation remains dangerous. Satellite operators will likely need to navigate this new cloud of space junk for several years, possibly decades.

In fact, the latest missile test conducted by Russia may have increased the total amount of missiles space junk, including discarded rockets and satellites in Earth’s orbit, as far as 10 percent. These fragments spin at incredibly high speeds and risk hitting active satellites that power critical technologies, such as GPS Navigation & Weather Forecast. Space debris like this is actually so dangerous that national security officials worry that it can be used as a weapon in futuristic space war. In fact, the US State Department has already said that Monday’s missile test is evidence that Russia is more than willing to create debris that threatens the safety of all nations operating in low Earth orbit, and even risks disrupting peace in space.

These risks have heightened concerns that we are far from solving the space waste problem, especially with the launch of private companies and foreign governments Thousands of new satellites in orbit Definitely creating more space junk.

However, Monday’s events were more politically risky than an ordinary space debris incident. The Russian government launched the so-called Anti-satellite test (ASAT), which, as the name implies, is designed to destroy satellites in orbit. It was launched from the site A few hundred miles north of Moscow, the missile hit A Russian spy satellite It’s called Kosmos-1408 which has been orbiting the Earth since 1982. The satellite has now been split into thousands of pieces that currently orbit Earth at about 17,000 miles per hour, passing the International Space Station about every 90 minutes. While astronauts no longer need shelter, the threat to the International Space Station or other satellites has not gone away.

“I am outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing act,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson He said in a statement. “With its long and rich history in human spaceflight, it is inconceivable that Russia would endanger not only American and international astronauts on the International Space Station, but also their own cosmonauts.” Nelson added that Russia’s actions were “reckless and dangerous” and also endangered those on board the Chinese space station Tiangong.

While Russia admitted to destroying a satellite in the latest test, its Defense Ministry insist on the event He did not endanger the International Space Station.

Russia is one of the four countries, including India, the United States and China to blow up their own satellite Using an anti-satellite missile. This trend is alarming because governments with anti-satellite systems can use the technology to attack other countries’ satellites, turning space into a battlefield. But even if nations are only targeting their own space objects, the Russian missile test shows how governments can also use anti-satellite missiles to create debris that threatens every nation, company or person operating in orbit. And again, once this debris is created, it can remain a threat for years. Just last week, the International Space Station had to do just that Adjust its height About a mile to avoid collision of space debris from a satellite shot down by China in 2007.

The problem of junk space is only increasing. There are currently more than 100 million pieces of space junk greater than a millimeter It orbits the Earth, according to NASA. As of May the Ministry of Defense tracker More than 27,000 large pieces of orbital debris, but even the smallest pieces can pose a huge danger to them Satellites and other space stations Because of the incredibly high speed at which they travel.

“I don’t think you can overestimate the danger of space debris at this point,” Wendy Whitman Cope, a professor at the US Air Force’s School of Atmospheric and Space Studies, told Recode. “As you create more debris, the chances of that debris hitting other things and creating more debris kind of increase.”

What makes the space junk problem particularly difficult is that no one has ever taken responsibility for it. according to Outer Space Treaty, which is the basis of international space law, states remain the owners of any objects it sends into space, so Russia still technically owns all the satellite fragments created by Monday’s rocket test. There is no global consensus on what sanctions are It must be creating unwanted spaceIt is still difficult to trace and attribute different parts of the debris to space operations in different countries.

Government agencies and private space companies technology development To remove space junk, such as networks that It can pick up debris in orbit And Hardware It would push satellites into the atmosphere to disintegrate. But there is concern that governments could use the same tools to take out another country’s satellites. At the same time, the cost of creating — and removing — space junk is rarely taken into account in the decision to launch a vehicle or satellite into space.

“In many ways, this is the same kind of problem, and it’s an environmental problem we’ve been dealing with on Earth in many ways,” said Achilles Rao, Economist at Middlebury who has studied space debris, told Recode. “We have suffered from the collapse of fisheries, we have struggled with atmospheric pollution, [and] We have experienced depletion of the ozone layer.”

For now, the best way we have right now to mitigate the many dangers of orbital debris is to not create space junk in the first place. It may happen through better international cooperation or the creation of new economic incentives for private companies, but the earlier this happens, the better. Although we are generally able to navigate around space junk that already exists, that will only get more difficult as more debris accumulates. And if we don’t come up with a solution in time, we could end up in a situation where Low Earth Orbit is too full of space junk to be navigable.

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