Russia’s newest anti-satellite check this week was in contrast to something we have seen from the nation earlier than.
The Russian Ministry of Defense launched an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile on Monday (Nov. 15), destroying one among its personal satellites and making a cloud of space particles that’s threatening astronauts on the International Space Station. While nations together with Russia have performed ASAT assessments earlier than, this check was one thing completely different.
Over the years, a number of nations together with the U.S. have developed and examined ASAT know-how. In 2007, China launched an ASAT missile at one among its personal climate satellites, and India launched its first ASAT test in 2019. In 2020, Russia launched two ASAT missiles and individually examined one other non-destructive space-based ASAT know-how.
But Monday’s check was one thing completely different. This was Russia’s first official intercept with its present ASAT system, generally known as Nudol, astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts advised Space.com.
Different international locations have completely different programs, however at present ASAT weapons that launch from Earth and will not be space-based are comparatively related. “They’re suborbital rockets that home in on a target satellite and destroy it by just sitting in the way while the satellite smashes into it at 17,000 miles an hour [27,000 kilometers per hour],” McDowell stated.
Previously, with Russia, “the multiple tests we saw were all rocket tests or flight tests,” space coverage skilled Brian Weeden, a director of program planning at Secure World Foundation, advised Space.com. “This is like the 11th or 12th test of that system, but it will be the first one that was actually an intercept,” which means that the check mission truly impacted a satellite and destroyed it, Weeden stated.
With earlier assessments of this similar ASAT system, Russia doubtless aimed its weapon at “an imaginary point in space, pretending there was a satellite there,” McDowell stated.
But this time, the check hit an actual goal in low Earth orbit: a defunct Soviet satellite known as Cosmos 1408 that hasn’t functioned because the Eighties. And, whereas Soviet-era ASAT assessments launched from completely different programs, Monday’s check was the primary intercept with Russia’s trendy system, McDowell stated.
Russia took the sudden step to conduct an intercept, a transfer that continues to position the space station’s seven inhabitants (together with two Russian cosmonauts) at risk and can have repercussions lasting years. But the check had different distinctive elements as properly.
“They took out a fairly large satellite,” McDowell stated, referring to the roughly 3,860-pound (1,750 kilograms) Cosmos 1408 satellite. “That’s on the big end of targets that have been used.”
“There’s really no reason they should have used such a big target,” McDowell stated. “They could have used a smaller target and generated less debris.” Additionally, whereas Russia’s ASAT check occurred at a decrease altitude than China’s check, it occurred at a a lot increased altitude than ASAT assessments performed by India and the United States.
“The implication of that is that the orbital debris will stay in orbit for an intermediate amount of time,” McDowell stated, including that the particles from this check will doubtless keep in orbit for years. He estimated that almost all of the fabric will come down inside about 5 years whereas China’s check nonetheless has “a lot of debris” after 14 years and there’s nonetheless materials in orbit from outdated Soviet assessments over 50 years in the past.
This particles, specialists count on, will proceed to pose issues for satellites in orbit in addition to the astronauts dwelling on the space station.
This check was the primary of its type for Russia, nevertheless it begs the query of whether or not they are going to conduct different related assessments.
“It’s a great question. How many tests do they need to do?” McDowell stated. “[It] depends a little bit on whether they’re seriously planning to deploy this system operationally,” he stated, including that the U.S. response to the occasion and the political interactions between the 2 nations will doubtless play a job. But, “if they’re really planning to employ an operational system, you might expect them to do it [conduct an intercept ASAT test] a number of times,” he stated.