NASA is outraged by an anti-satellite missile test. Russia’s downplaying the whole thing

On Monday, the astronauts working on the International Space Station were woken up and told to take shelter — the station could potentially be hit by a cloud of space debris.

Thankfully no major incidents were reported, but US officials are very unhappy. 

Here's why.

What actually happened?

A Russian satellite called Kosmos 1408 was blown up, with the explosion generating a cloud of space junk.

NASA says there are more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris, but it's estimated there could be hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces now orbiting the Earth.

The crew aboard the International Space Station were woken up and told to close the hatches to certain modules on the station as it approached the cloud of debris, just in case the pieces caused any damage. 

NASA says crew took shelter in their docked spacecraft capsules for about two hours. 

Those spacecraft can be used like lifeboats, which would allow the crew to escape back to Earth in an emergency situation. 

Was it definitely Russia?

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the explosion was caused by Russia testing a "direct ascent anti-satellite missile" against one of its own satellites. 

He came out swinging against Russia, calling the test reckless and destructive and said it created space debris that "risks astronauts' lives, the integrity of the International Space Station, and the interests of all nations".

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said he was "outraged".

"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," he said. 

But Russia has been downplaying the whole thing.

Russian space agency Roscosmos tweeted:

"The orbit of the object, which forced the crew today to move into spacecraft according to standard procedures, has moved away from the ISS orbit.

"The station is in the green zone."

… but it hasn't posted anything confirming it was a satellite missile test. 

Russia's state media reported Roscosmos's director-general Dmitry Rogozin would meet with NASA representatives on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov has tweeted that it's business as usual up in space. 

"Friends, everything is regular with us! We continue to work on the program," he said. 

LoadingHow do you shoot a satellite in space?

You need an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon, which is a high-tech space weapon that can, as the name suggests, shoot down satellites.

Some are launched from the ground but others can be in orbit up in space. 

It's long been forecast that space would eventually become a very important domain for warfare thanks to an increased reliance on satellites for things such as GPS, telecommunications and weather forecasting. 

You can imagine how taking out just the right satellite could affect a technology-dependent military's defences. 

So far, only the US, Russia, China and India have demonstrated the ability to shoot down their own satellites.

What happens to the debris?

Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell said the first few pieces of debris would probably start to fall back into the atmosphere within a few months.

But he said it could take as long as 10 years for the cloud to completely clear up. 

What has everyone else done about it?

Besides posting a few angry tweets, firing off a few sternly-worded letters and meeting with Russia's space agency boss, not a lot. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken posted on Twitter that he condemned the test:

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The US hasn't made any public threats against Russia, unless you count this vague comment from Mr Price:

"We are going to continue to make very clear that we won't tolerate this kind of activity," he said. 

It's highly unlikely any retaliation would happen in space, with just a single fleck of paint having the ability to do major damage when orbiting at 28,000 kilometres per hour.

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And Mr Nelson said the US and Russia needed to cooperate to keep the International Space Station running.

"I don't want it to be threatened," he said.

"You've got to operate it together."

ABC with Wires 

Posted 40m ago40 minutes agoTue 16 Nov 2021 at 7:35amShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp

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