Russia may have just shot down its own satellite, creating a huge debris cloud

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Seven astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station took shelter inside their respective spacecraft, a Crew Dragon and a Soyuz, on Monday morning as the orbiting laboratory passed through an unexpected debris field.

This was not a pre-planned collision avoidance maneuver in low Earth orbit, in which the station would use onboard propulsion to move away. Rather, the situation required the astronauts to seek refuge quickly.


If a collision occurred during the conjunction, the two spacecraft would have separated from the space station and made an emergency return to Earth. Ultimately this was no longer necessary, and the astronauts rejoined the space station later on Monday. However, as the crew on the station prepared for their sleeping schedule, Mission Control in Houston asked them to temporarily shut down the space station in case of an unexpected collision during subsequent orbits.

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“We’re looking forward to a quiet day tomorrow,” NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hey told the ship on Monday in response to a final call from Mission Control on Monday.

The debris field that worried flight controllers on Monday appears to have been caused by an anti-satellite test conducted by Russia’s military on Monday morning.

The US Department of Defense on Monday issued the following statement on the test: “US Space Command is aware of a debris-generating event in outer space. We are actively working to characterize the debris field and all space-distance Will continue to ensure countries with

Apart from this statement, as of Monday afternoon in the United States, there has been no official confirmation of details about the test. However, satellite and orbital dynamics experts have pieced together the most likely scenario based on publicly available data and observations. Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation summed up the conclusion here,

Russia appears to have launched the Nudol missile from surface-to-space from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the northern part of the country on Monday, between 02:00 and 05:00 UTC. The missile then collided with an older satellite, Kosmos 1408. Launched in 1982, the satellite was slowly losing altitude and was a little over 450 km above Earth.

It is a large satellite, weighing around 2,000 kg. As of Monday afternoon, US Space Command said it was already tracking more than 1,000 pieces of new debris. Although the satellite’s altitude exceeds that of the International Space Station, which is about 400 km above the surface, a kinetic impact would cause a large cloud of debris to spread. satellite expert Jonathan McDowell believe that The Cosmos 1408 satellite is a likely candidate for the space station’s ongoing debris event.

What seems clear is that this story is just the beginning. NASA doesn’t have any sort of formal response, but undoubtedly, senior officials are concerned about another debris cloud in low Earth orbit that would threaten the valuable International Space Station and other assets. Russia’s involvement – they are a major space station partner, after all – should be doubly puzzling.

It is also difficult to understand why Russia would intentionally destroy a satellite that could threaten the station, where two of its astronauts currently live and significant funding has been invested. So far, Russia’s space corporation, Roscosmos, has just issued a reprehensible statement Which reads as the former Iraqi information minister might have said: “The orbit of the object, which today forced the crew to board the spacecraft according to standard procedures, has moved away from ISS orbit. The station is in the green zone.” . “

Update at 2:40 p.m. ET: Testing has created more than 1,500 pieces of trackable debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of untrackable debris, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a daily briefing today.

“The Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites,” Price said. “This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and astronauts on the International Space Station as well as other human spaceflight activities. Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior threatens the long-term stability of outer space.”

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