It seems like only yesterday that we were hearing about the Russians blowing up a derelict satellite, creating a dangerous cloud of metal fragments that put the International Space Station at risk. Oh, that’s right. It was yesterday. The original details were rather sketchy, but today we’ve received confirmation of the story. Russia has admitted that it blew up a satellite that they launched back in 1982. But they deny that they did anything that would put the ISS in danger, despite the fact that some of their own cosmonauts are onboard. They’re accusing the United States of essentially overblowing the story and basically would like us to mind our own business. (NBC News)
Russia confirmed Tuesday that it conducted a missile test targeting an old space satellite, but rejected accusations from the United States and allies that it risked endangering astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Moscow’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement that it had “successfully conducted a test” targeting a now-defunct Russian satellite that had been in orbit since 1982.
The United States branded the test “dangerous and irresponsible,” but Russia dismissed the suggestion.
The Russian Minister of Defense claims that the United States “knows for certain” that the cloud of debris “does not and will not pose a threat to orbital stations.” Their Foreign Minister accused us of “hypocrisy” in raising these complaints.
That’s a pretty bold position to take on the part of the Russians. There are cosmonauts on the ISS right now and they were among the people who were evacuated to the escape capsules and told to prepare for a possible departure after firing the rockets to move the station out of the path of the oncoming debris. Don’t they talk to their own cosmonauts every day like everyone else does? Surely they know about the emergency drill, so everyone is going to know that they’re lying.
Of course, if we’re being honest, they do sort of have a point about us being at least a bit hypocritical on this. That entire part of space above our planet is, as we’ve discussed here before, a junkyard full of tens of thousands of pieces of debris that we’re already tracking and America put a lot of it up there. We probably put up more than anyone else, actually.
But the difference is that it was mostly junk that was accidentally discarded or abandoned after the equipment failed. To my knowledge, we haven’t actually blown anything to smithereens creating a huge cloud of junk. (Though it’s a certainty that we’ve already developed weapons to do so if needed.)
There is one curious angle to this story that may wind up impacting international diplomacy. Russia has been getting awfully chummy with the Chinese lately in a number of areas, including space exploration. They recently announced that they plan to abandon their participation in missions to the ISS and instead go to work with China on their new space station. The criticism they are receiving this week over the missile launch has all included the fact that China’s space assets were put in danger by this test just like the ISS was. Could that drive some sort of wedge between them? It’s possible. China has been doing a lot of work in space for the past several years and if they get hit with that blast of metal fragments, I’m guessing they’ll have a few choice words for their new friends in Moscow about it.