Russia confirms ASAT test, claims it poses no danger
(16 Nov 2021) Russia's defence ministry has admitted to destroying one of its satellites during a missile test, confirming accusations levied earlier by the United States. "The Russian defence ministry successfully conducted a test, as a result of which the Russian spacecraft Tselina-D (aka Kosmos 1408) was destroyed," the military said in a statement.
The PL-19/Nudol interceptor was fired from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Nudol was first tested in 2014, with the first successful test occurring in late 2015 at the third attempt. Tests have continued over the last few years, although the most recent was the first to involve the destruction of an actual satellite in orbit. The target of the missile was Kosmos 1408, a 1982 Soviet signals intelligence satellite that has been defunct for several decades.
U.S. officials had denounced Russia for conducting a "dangerous and irresponsible" missile test that blew up one of its own satellites, creating a debris cloud that threatened the International Space Station.
NASA said the crew aboard the ISS – currently four Americans, a German and two Russians -- were woken up and forced to take shelter in their return ships.
US officials said they were not informed in advance of the anti-satellite missile test -- only the fourth ever to hit a spacecraft from the ground -- which generated over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris.
The Russian military said that it was carrying out planned activities to strengthen its defence capabilities but denied that the test was dangerous.
"The United States knows for certain that the resulting fragments, in terms of test time and orbital parameters, did not and will not pose a threat to orbital stations, spacecraft and space activities," it said.
[Russia's military can predict the orbits of 1,500+ pieces of debris created by hitting a defunct satellite with a kinetic weapon? Ah no, they don't have to! Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed the test was harmless because "The ISS is located 40-60 km lower than the fragments of the destroyed satellite." How stupid can this get? – Ed.]
The confirmation of the U.S. claims came shortly after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had reportedly dismissed them.
"To declare that the Russian Federation creates risks for the peaceful use of space is, at the very least, hypocrisy," Lavrov told a press conference in Moscow, adding that "there are no facts" behind the claims.
Dr. Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astrophysicist, said that "The feeling among people in the space industry is that we have way too much debris up there already -- to deliberately generate more is just inexcusable."
The first objects from the debris cloud should start to enter the atmosphere within a few months, but it could be up to 10 years before it clears up entirely, he said.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement he was "outraged by this irresponsible and destabilising action."
"With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts" as well as Chinese taikonauts aboard China's space station, he said.
The United States shot down a satellite in 2008 in response to China demonstrating a similar knockout in 2007. India was the last to carry out a test on a target in 2019, creating hundreds of pieces of space junk strongly criticised by other powers, including the United States.