U.S. Bans Testing of Ground-Based Anti-Satellite Weapons

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Vice President Harris informed members of Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Force that the United States would cease conducting “direct ascent” testing for anti-satellite weaponry. Harris stated, “These tests can be dangerous and we won’t conduct them.”

The Biden administration has stopped the testing of ASAT weapons. They hope that this will help to create “new norms for responsible behavior” in space and an international ban on such tests.

It’s a positive step towards making outer space safer. However, it raises questions about why this was done unilaterally in the middle of the conflict in Ukraine. The United States could be drawn into war at any moment.

Washington Examiner:

The statement stated, “The destruction of space objects via direct-ascent ASAT rocket testing is recklessly irresponsible.” The statement stated that the long-lasting debris from these tests now poses a threat to satellites and other objects in space, which are essential to all countries’ economic and security interests. It also increases the risk for astronauts in space. These tests are a threat to the long-term sustainability and security of outer space. They also threaten the exploration and use of space by all countries.

Not to be confused with the millions of pieces and junk in space, the chances of an astronaut or the ISS colliding are very remote.

If nothing is done quickly, however, it will be a disaster to launch a satellite or people into space.

The White House fact sheet about the ban refers to Russia’s November 2021 and China’s 2007 tests.

According to Price, the Russian military “recklessly” conducted a direct-ascent missile test against a Russian satellite. The missile hit the Russian satellite after it had been orbiting for almost 40 years.

The current global Space Surveillance Network of the Department of Defense (SSN), tracks 27,000 pieces of junk in space. This is only a small fraction of the space junk that’s currently circling Earth. Most of it will eventually fall to the earth. This presents another problem.

Yesterday, India declared that it is examining any debris from a Chinese Long March missile.

Space News:

Jonathan McDowell, a space-watcher from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tweeted on April 4 that the ring was compatible with a piece of China’s Long March 3B Rocket. McDowell also tweeted that the objects crashed could be part of Long March 3B serial number “Y77”, which was launched in February 2021. China is still silent about the reentry incident.

“They [two ISRO scientists] took photos and videos of these objects and interacted about them with Ladbori village residents,” Suresh Chopne (an NGO activist) told Hindustan Times. According to their discussions, these objects were believed to be debris from a Chinese Long March Rocket. Only after the laboratory has examined the fuel, it will be possible to determine what type of fuel was in the cylinders.

The debris fell right in the middle of a village. This is not unusual in China. Every nation pays great attention to determining where their space junk might end up on earth. The U.S. targets rocket boosters and other missile stages as well as larger parts of a launch vessel to reach the ocean or away from a population center.

It’s huge that the United States has stopped testing an anti-satellite weapon, which could increase the amount of space junk already orbiting Earth. However, there are some downsides as Mike Rogers (House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican) reminds us.

He said, “This unilateral decision mistakenly mistakes activity for success.” It does not deter our enemies in an ever-escalating warfighting domain. It may actually have the opposite effect, which is why I am concerned. Both the Russians as well as the CCP have shown their anti-satellite capabilities. It would be foolish to assume they wouldn’t use them against our assets.

All sides are aware that destroying a satellite for surveillance would be a declared war. Rogers is correct: Russia and China both have this capability and it would be better to negotiate a ban rather than trust our enemies will follow our lead.