NOVEMBER 16, 2021
- Russia tested a missile on an old satellite Monday, creating a debris field in space.
- The blast unleashed at least 1,500 large objects, the US said.
- Even small bits of space junk can have dire effects on spacecraft because they travel so fast.
A Russian anti-satellite missile test created “at least” 1,500 large space objects, the US said, worsening the potentially deadly problem of orbiting space junk.
International Space Station (ISS) astronauts and cosmonauts had to shelter in spacecrafts on Monday as the station moved out of the path of an object Insider previously reported.
NASA later confirmed the object came from the satellite breakup caused by the Russian strike.
The fragments “will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a press briefing on Monday, Insider previously reported.
Ten people are currently in the Earth’s orbit: seven onboard the ISS, per Reuters, as well as three on China’s Tiangong space station.
The shrapnel is now whizzing around the Earth. Fragments in orbit can reach speeds ten times that of a shooting bullet.
Anything above a third of an inch (1 cm) could penetrate the shields of the ISS’s crew modules, Insider previously reported, as can be seen in a video here.
Anything larger than 4 inches (10 cm) could shatter the station to pieces, per Insider. The ISS has emergency evacuation pods in such instances to help astronauts survive.
The satellite debris adds to tens of thousands of objects tracked from the ground, per NASA. That tracking can provide advanced warning to allow spacecrafts to move out of the way of the debris.
Even objects smaller can cause tears and chips when orbiting the Earth uncontrollably — and these can’t be tracked, Insider previously reported.
—18th Space Control Squadron (@18SPCS) November 15, 2021
The satellite was destroyed by a direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile on Monday, Moscow Standard Time, according to Space Command.
Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, has been quiet on the issue. On Tuesday, it issued a statement that does not mention the satellite breakup, but said: “For us, the main priority has been and remains to ensure the unconditional safety of the crew.”
NASA and Roscosmos are meeting on Tuesday to discuss the event, an unnamed source told Tass.
This is not the only space junk from a missile test the ISS has to dodge recently. On Wednesday, it swerved to avoid space junk from a Chinese anti-satellite test conducted in 2007.