U.S. Says Russian Test Has Created Debris Field in Space

State Department warns that anti-satellite weapons test could endanger space station and astronauts.

Russia has conducted an anti-satellite weapons test, creating more than 1,500 pieces of “trackable” orbital debris, according to the U.S. Department of State.

During a press briefing Monday, spokesman Ned Price condemned Russia’s operations.

“This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station, as well as to other human spaceflight activities,” Price said.

U.S. Space Command warned of a “debris-generating event” in space and said it was coordinating with other countries to help ensure the safety of their equipment in orbit, according to a report by Politico.

Some news outlets reported that the ISS crew was forced to seek shelter temporarily; a tweet from Russia’s state-run space corporation, Roscomos, said: “The orbit of the object, due to which the crew was forced today according to standard procedures to transfer to spaceships, moved away from the ISS orbit. The station is in the ‘green zone.’”

This comes as the satellite and debris population of Earth’s orbit rapidly approaches a dangerous threshold—one that could have substantial negative effects in the near future.

The State Department reports as many as 1,500 pieces of debris measuring at least 10 centimeters in length, but “hundreds of thousands” of smaller debris are now unleashed into orbit.

“Russia’s dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long-term sustainability of outer space, and clearly demonstrates that Russia’s claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical,” he said.

On November 11, the ISS was nearly struck by orbital debris that originated from a Chinese Fengyun-1C satellite that was destroyed in 2007. The station was forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid the collision.

“This puts the collective interest of the international community, in some cases, great danger,” Price said.

The ISS currently has seven astronauts on board, including NASA’s Crew-3 astronauts who arrived at the station last week.

The State Department has previously spoken with Russian officials about the dangers of destroying orbital bodies and continues to condemn their operations.

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