23 November 2021

On the Russian Anti-Satellite Test

Paula Szkody

Paula Szkody University of Washington, Seattle

AAS President's Message

The night sky is the cultural heritage of humanity. Our access to it, along with our ability to understand the cosmos, is determined in part by the human uses of the orbital space near the Earth.

Along with the members of the AAS's Committee on Light Pollution, Radio Interference, and Space Debris (LPRISD), I therefore am extremely concerned by the recent destruction of the Kosmos 1408 satellite by the Russian Defense Ministry. This deliberate act generated thousands of pieces of space debris that threaten the integrity of other spacecraft and will continue to do so for decades. It is a reminder of the ongoing militarization of space that is antithetical to its peaceful use granted to all signatories of the Outer Space Treaty.

An act such as the Russian anti-satellite test threatens the integrity, safety, and peaceful sustainable use of low Earth orbit (LEO) space. It generates debris that imperils human spaceflight and scientific and commercial instruments occupying or transiting through LEO space. The debris also impacts the night sky and its accessibility for ground-based astronomy, as well as other scientific, economic, commercial, and cultural purposes.

Large debris-generating events may trigger cascades that eventually render LEO space unusable. Much of this debris may end up being too small to be easily tracked. The increasing crowding of objects in LEO heightens the potential for catastrophe and amplifies the potential severity of events like the destruction of Kosmos 1408.

This event should serve as a warning call on all parties to refrain from conducting further reckless and dangerous actions in space, and for the conscientious management of LEO space to ensure that this valuable resource can continue to be used by diverse stakeholders and all nations long into the future.

Paula Szkody
AAS President

Jeffrey Hall and Members of LPRISD
SATCON2 Organizing Committee Members