Russian Antisatellite Weapon Test May Have Littered Space With Dangerous Debris

A Russian antisatellite weapon test may have created a dangerous field of orbiting space debris that threatened the International Space Station over the weekend, unnamed U.S. officials told CNN.

In a statement, U.S. Space Command (which is different than Space Force) confirmed “a debris-generating event” occurred, but notably declined to mention the cause or Russia.

Two U.S. officials told CNN that Russia carried out an antisatellite test over the weekend, and one suggested a link to the debris. That scenario is bolstered by a report from Seradata, a private space data and analysis company that tracked a suspected ground-launched antisatellite missile strike from Russia.

The missile struck a defunct Soviet-era intelligence satellite that had been in orbit since 1982 and scattered at least 14 pieces of debris large enough to be tracked, according to Seradata. If confirmed, it would be Russia’s fourth such antisatellite test.

This June 4, 2015 photo shows the Cupola, a 360-degree observation area and remote control location for grappling, docking and undocking spacecraft on the International Space Station. (Scott Kelly/NASA via AP)

The seven astronauts aboard the ISS had to repeatedly take safety measures Monday, sheltering in their docked capsules while the station passed the orbiting junk.

“We are actively working to characterize the debris field and will continue to ensure all space-faring nations have the information necessary to maneuver satellites if impacted,” U.S. Space Command said. “We are also in the process of working with the interagency, including the State Department and NASA, concerning these reports and will provide an update in the near future.”

Last week, the ISS had to alter its orbit after a chunk of an old Chinese satellite ― created by an antisatellite missile test by the Chinese in 2007 ― came close to the station.

Even tiny bits of space debris can be disastrous for the space station. In June, a 5mm (0.20-inch) wide piece of junk traveling at 17,500 mph punched a hole through a thermal blanket wrapped around the station’s 60-foot robotic Canadarm2.

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