In a scene worthy of the best space dramas, the seven members of the International Station in earth orbit had to activate emergency procedures and take refuge in capsules that function as the structure’s lifeboats.
The incident took place on Monday (15), after Russia destroyed a former Soviet Cold War spy satellite with a missile, sending a cloud of debris into several orbits.
The ISS (English acronym for International Space Station) is now home to four Americans, one German and two Russians. “The test generated more than 1,500 traceable pieces of debris and hundreds of thousands of smaller pieces that now threaten every nation,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the US State Department.
Russia shrugged its shoulders and stated that at no time was there any direct risk to the ISS, which, moreover, has been presenting a series of problems. A slightly larger piece would have entered a suspicious trajectory and so the evacuation procedure, when hatches between modules are also closed, was triggered.
According to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, this is standard. The country’s Defense Ministry said, in a statement on Tuesday (16), that the US is only doing Russian-phobic propaganda.
NASA, its US counterpart, said it was outraged by the test, which uses technology employed by Russia, the US, China and India. The French government also criticized, calling the movement destabilizing and irresponsible.
Basically, an anti-satellite missile is fired from the ground to hit its target in orbit. In this case, it was an old Tselina-D satellite, launched in 1982 and inactive for years. The instrument is over 1 ton.
For the Russian Defense portfolio, the American complaint is hypocritical, given that the country also conducts tests of this type. More: Last year, the Space Force, a new armed branch of the US, was created to expand its military capabilities in space.
“The US is actively developing and testing, without any notification, various types of combat and attack weapons in orbit,” the ministry said, according to RIA Novosti.
China, which maintains its own space station, had come under similar criticism with an analogous test in 2017. The militarization charge included testing a mysterious orbital plane last year, similar to a model being tested in the US since 2010.
Beijing and Moscow have new partnerships in the space field, but there are no reports that they involve the defense area.
Space junk, 64 years after human exploration began, is a very real problem. According to NASA, there are about 1 million potentially dangerous objects, from 1 cm to 10 cm in diameter, capable of damaging or destroying satellites.
In the case of the ISS, the situation is more dramatic, as being bumped into by one of these debris could mean a small hole in the hull — hence the idea of the lifeboats.